The EU’s Seveso Directive was prompted by an accident happened in 1976 at a pesticide and herbicide manufacturing plant in Seveso, Italy where a dense cloud containing tetrachlorodibenzoparadioxin (TCDD) was released. Although no immediate fatalities were reported, there was widespread dispersal of of a substance lethal to man even in microgramme doses. This resulted in the immediate contamination of some 10 square miles of land and vegetation. More than 600 people had to be evacuated from their homes, with some 2000 treated for dioxin poisoning.

The accident led to adoption of legislation aimed at the prevention and control of such accidents. The resulting Seveso directive now applies to around 10,000 industrial establishments across Europe where dangerous substances are used or stored in large quantities, mainly in the chemicals, petrochemicals, storage and metal refining sectors.

The Directive obliges the 27 EU nations to ensure that operators have a policy in place to prevent major accidents. Operators handling dangerous substances above certain thresholds must regularly inform any public likely to be affected by an accident, and implement safety reports, a safety management system and an internal emergency plan. Member States must ensure that emergency plans are in place for the surrounding areas and that mitigation actions are planned.

There is a tiered approach to the level of controls: the larger the quantities of dangerous substances present within an establishment, the stricter the rules. Thus, 'upper-tier' establishments have bigger quantities than 'lower-tier' establishments and are therefore subject to tighter control.


  • Seveso I: Council Directive 82/501/EEC on the major-accident hazards of certain industrial activities (OJ No L 230 of 5 August 1982)
  • Seveso II: On 9 December 1996, Council Directive 96/82/EC on the control of major-accident hazards – the so-called Seveso II Directive replaced the original Seveso Directive. Seveso II included a revision and extension of the scope; the introduction of new requirements relating to safety management systems; emergency planning and land-use planning; and a reinforcement of the provisions on inspections to be carried out by Member States.
  • Seveso III: Further adaptation of provisions on major accidents occurred on 4 July 2012 with the publication of a replacement directive - 2012/18/EU. The Seveso III Directive 2012/18/EU entered into force on 13 August 2012. Member States have to transpose and implement the Directive by 1 June 2015, which is also the date when the new chemicals classification legislation becomes fully applicable in Europe.
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