EU governments "failing" on Seveso directive

Six states to be warned by Commission over major accident law, experts discuss changes

The European Commission is to send six EU member states "reasoned opinions" alleging failure to transpose the 1996 "Seveso II" directive which aims to prevent major accidents involving dangerous substances, ENDS Daily has learned. France, Austria, Greece, Italy, Portugal and Luxembourg are all now in danger of being taken to the European Court of Justice over the issue.

Seveso II updated the 1982 Seveso directive, which was named after a notorious accident in Italy in 1976. The law promotes working practices and research in order to prevent hazards from major accidents at industrial installations. Its new version entered into force in February.

One of the reasons the directive has been so poorly implemented, according to European Commission officials, is that its provisions require amendments to many different national laws. Moreover, they say, the directive does not set rules for carrying out risk analysis, leading to differing interpretations of many of its provisions, such as safe distances between installations and public areas.

European Commissioners rubber-stamped the decision to send the six countries a final warning last week, on the first day of a regular six-monthly conference which aims to improve and harmonise the directive's implementation by EU states. The conferences are also attended by non-members Norway, Switzerland, Iceland, plus accession countries.

According to Commission officials who attended the meeting, the most important outcome was a decision to formalise "peer review" site visits by member state officials to different EU countries. Participants also agreed to develop a harmonised risk assessment procedure for Seveso sites. However, member states objected to a Commission proposal to increase the number of fuel-storage sites falling under the directive's obligations.

Under current rules, sites storing over 5,000 tonnes of petroleum products are required to alert the authorities and produce hazard action plans. The commission is proposing to cut the threshold to 200 tonnes to include facilities such as airports and around ten very large petrol stations. However, member states indicated that they would only accept a threshold of 500 tonnes after industry figures suggested that the lower figure would "do little to reduce risks" while increasing administrative costs by tripling the number of Seveso sites.

The changes will be considered by working groups and, say Commission officials, should result next year in proposals to amend the directive once again.

Follow Up:
European Commission, tel: +32 2 299 1111.

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