Disaster of Seveso, Italy

North Italy, 1976; chemical industry leaks dangerous substances and Italy learns how pollution kills.


Seveso is a municipality located 20 km north of Milan. Until 1976 Industrie Chimiche Meda Società Azionaria (ICMESA) was located at the border with the town of Desio. ICMESA was a chemical industry of the Swiss company Givaudan (from 1963 belonging to the multinational pharmaceutical company Hoffmann-La Roche). ICMESA has since 1971 manufactured 2,4,5-trichlorophenol, a toxic substance used in herbicides and for the preparation of hexachlorophene (cosmetics).

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Basic Data
NameDisaster of Seveso, Italy
Province Municipality of Monza-Brianza
SiteSeveso, Lombardia.
Accuracy of LocationHIGH local level
Source of Conflict
Type of Conflict (1st level)Industrial and Utilities conflicts
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Landfills, toxic waste treatment, uncontrolled dump sites
Chemical industries
Specific CommoditiesLand
Chemical products
Project Details and Actors
Project Area (in hectares) 600 ha
Type of PopulationSemi-urban
Potential Affected Population200,000
Start Date11/10/1976
Company Names or State EnterprisesIndustrie Chimiche Meridionali S.A. ( ICMESA)
L. Givaudan & C. from Switzerland
Hoffmann-La Roche A.G. from Switzerland
Relevant government actorsDepartment of Health of the Lombardy Region, the Province of Milan, the municipalities of Seveso, Meda, Desio and Cesano Maderno, prosecutor of Monza, Monza Court, the Court of Milan, the Milan Court of Appeal, Supreme Court of Rome.
Environmental justice organisations and other supportersComitato di Coordinamento Cittadino, Comitato 5D, Legambiente circolo di Seveso (www.legambienteseveso.org), wwf (www.wwf.it)
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)MEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
When did the mobilization beginMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups MobilizingFarmers
Industrial workers
International ejos
Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Forms of MobilizationBlockades
Development of a network/collective action
Development of alternative proposals
Land occupation
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Air pollution, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Food insecurity (crop damage), Soil contamination, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Mine tailing spills, Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation
Health ImpactsVisible: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide, Deaths, Other Health impacts
OtherA study published in 2008 showed that even 33 years after the disaster, the effects of dioxin (TCDD) on endocrine system of the population are still high.

The study "Epicenter" conducted by the Institute of Health showed that the effects of the Seveso disaster are not limited to tumors: in zones A and B were also observed increases in mortality from circulatory diseases in the first years after the accident, chronic obstructive lung disease and diabetes mellitus among women.
Socio-economic ImpactsVisible: Displacement, Loss of livelihood, Militarization and increased police presence, Specific impacts on women, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Project StatusStopped
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseEnvironmental improvements, rehabilitation/restoration of area
Court decision (failure for environmental justice)
Negotiated alternative solution
New legislation
Strengthening of participation
Project cancelled
Do you consider this as a success?Not Sure
Why? Explain briefly.The territory is still polluted (also because of the incinerator for municipal waste): in 2013 dioxin beyond the legal limits was found inside the range eggs in Seveso.

In recent years, local committees are fighting against the project to build here the highway "Pedemontana". The Committee 5D, still active, has been working for 20 years in the legal battles for compensation in a civil proceeding, unfortunately with poor results.

This case marks the birth of awareness against industrial chemicals in Italy, similar to that caused by radioactivity later. Many believe that in Seveso chemical military weapons were produced, given that the same substances were used to synthesize the infamous orange agent.

The episode has contributed to the creation of laws (eg the Law 194/1978 on abortion) and international treaties (EU Directive "Seveso" and the Basel Convention of March 22, 1989) that protects the right to health care. It also has contributed to the Italian environmental movement, in wich Laura Conti, Communist Party politician, founder of Legambiente, was the protagonist. To her is dedicated the circle of Legambiente in Seveso, which preserves many documents (newspaper, articles and audio-video) on the Seveso disaster.
Sources and Materials

Decreto Legislativo 238/2005:
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Convenzione di Basilea:
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Direttiva europea “Seveso” 82/501/CEE, recepita in Italia con il DPR 17 maggio 1988, n. 175;

sostituita dalle direttive: “Seveso II” 96/82 CEE, recepita in Italia con D.Lgs. 334/99; “Seveso II-bis” 2003/105/CE, recepita in Italia con D.Lgs. 238/2005; “Seveso III” 2012/18/UE, entrata in vigore il 13/08/2012, dovrà essere recepita dagli S.M. entro il 01/06/2015.
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Sentenza della terza sezione civile della Corte di Cassazione, n. 9711/2013:
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Abstract dello studio su Seveso condotto dall’Istituto Superiore di Sanità nel progetto “Epicentro”:
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Seveso: la fabbrica dei profumi (documentario di History Channel)

Marina Rossi; Seveso 1976: storia del disastro dell'Icmesa
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Wikipedia_Disastro di Seveso:
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Una ricca bibliografia è disponibile su:
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Articolo scientifico del 2008 sulle alterazioni ormonali nella popolazione esposta:
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Laura Conti- Visto da Seveso - Ed. Feltrinelli, 1977

Centemeri Laura- Ritorno a Seveso. Il danno ambientale, il suo riconoscimento, la sua riparazione Ed. Mondadori, 2006


Comitato no pedemontana
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Media Links

ll disastro di Seveso 10 luglio 1976 ore 12.37
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seveso 07/2006
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manifestazione 2
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animali seveso
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zona A
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Other Documents

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The ICMESA chemical industry Source: Ecoblog - http://www.ecoblog.it/post/102823/seveso-era-il-10-luglio-1976-quando-litalia-scopri-la-tragedia-dellinquinamento
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Meta Information
ContributorIvano Lonigro, [email protected] - (CDCA)
Last update13/03/2015