Environment & Health

Emergency Preparedness Plan in Local Communities: The Role of Stakeholders

Introduction

There is no alternative to industrialization in the modern societies of today. Industrialization is vital to a nation’s socio-economic development and good standard of living for its populace. Developments in societies are resulting in increasing number of factories and hazardous installations at local levels. At the same time, the transport of dangerous goods within communities is increasing. The demands for improved efficiency and increased capacity often require use of dangerous processes and substances to boost production.

In the last three decades, industrial- and technological- related accidents such as fire, explosion, spills or release of hazardous materials have endangered life, property and the environment. In 1984 alone, three major industrial accidents involving explosion and leakage of hazardous substances were recorded in Brazil, India and Mexico. Petrol pipeline explosion in Sao Paulo, Brazil claimed 500 lives. More than 2500 people died, 1000 people were injured and another 300,000 people evacuated as a result of release of poisonous gas (Methyl Isocyanate gas) from Du Pont Company’s faulty pump in Bhopal, India. Claims running into several billions of dollars were instituted against the company by the victims. In San Junaico, Mexico, explosion involving liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) left 600 dead and 7000 injured.

Industrial and technological accidents include explosion, fire, warehouse fire, rail, road and air accidents, spills and leakage of hazardous substances. Most developed countries including U.S.A, France, U.K., Italy, Germany and Switzerland have also experienced and still have to cope with human disaster, severe damage to property and the environment associated with industrial and technological accidents. Nigeria has also continued to have its own share, mainly from industrial fires and oil and gas pipeline explosions.

The impacts of industrial and technological accidents are mainly felt at the local levels where the hazardous installations are sited. Most often, the impacts of accidents extend beyond the fence-line of the industrial facility to affect the plant neighborhood and have consequences affecting environmental health safety of the community. This calls for awareness in the community of the possible hazards and how it can act to protect life, property and the environment should an accident occur.

The Hazardous Installations

The hazardous installations are facilities or risk objects that are prone to hazards. A hazard (or risk source) is a threat which could cause an incident or accident. An incident is the result of a chain of events which could have led to an accident if it had not been halted (a ‘near miss’) ; while an accident is an unintended, unexpected and sudden occurrence, causing damage to people, property or the environment.

An accident is usually preceded by an initiating event (the first event in a chain of events leading to an accident). Accident may also be triggered by external events such as lightning, extreme weather conditions, earthquake, flooding, landslide, etc. An accident at a facility may also have a knock-on effect in a place indirectly connected with the facility. For example, water used to extinguish a fire in a building or facility may have a knock-on contamination consequence on a river somewhere else.

An accident has consequences for life, property and the environment. It is regarded as a disaster if the scale of damage involves several deaths and tens of severely injured survivors, damage to property with several million U.S. dollars or long-term damage to the environment.

Risk Objects and their common hazards

The risk objects and hazards can be found in industry, terminals, supplies, transport lines, public facilities, etc. The types of hazard present could be toxic, flammable, reactive, explosive, natural or a combination of two or more hazards. The severity of hazard also depends on the quantities of the hazardous substances.

The United Nations Environment Programme/Industry and Environment (UNEP/IE), on page 27 of its technical report No. 12, enumerates the following risk objects and their associated hazards.

Docks, depots, terminal, stores: Large and variable quantities of many types of dangerous substances (inflammable, explosive, poisonous etc.); cranes and vehicles.

Ships, Railway marshalling yards, canals: Dangerous goods, oil.

Processing industry (Refineries, petrochemical, inorganic chemical, pharmaceutical, paint, steel/metal, cellulose/paper, textile, etc.): Pressure vessels, tanks, stores, containers, processing equipment with hazardous substances in the form of raw materials, catalysts, product, byproducts, waste and high voltage electricity.

Other industry (Plastics, rubber, engineering, saw mills and other wood production): Pressure vessels, stores, storage tanks with poisonous/inflammable substances, etc.

Hydro-electric power stations: Dammed water, high voltage electricity.

Gas power stations: Inflammable gas, pressurized pipelines, high voltage electricity.

Nuclear power stations: Radioactive and poisonous reactor materials, pressure vessels, high pressure steam, hot water, high voltage electricity.

Thermal power stations: Inflammable substances, pressure vessels, high pressure steam, hot water, high voltage electricity.

Oil & gas pipelines: Inflammable gas and oil, pressurized pipelines..

Other pipelines: Inflammable, poisonous and environmentally hazardous substances, pressurized pipelines.

Petrol stations/oil depots: Inflammable, poisonous and environmentally hazardous substances.

Department stores: Combustible and poisonous substances, aerosol sprays.

Builders merchants: Large quantities of wood.

Hardware stores: Explosive and combustible substances.

Saw mills: Combustible substances, wood.

Municipal facilities (water purification plant, sewage treatment plant, swimming pools):

Hazardous substances.

Hospitals/Schools: Hazardous chemicals.

Hotels: Tall buildings.

Silos: Combustible dust.

Quarries: Unstable rock/soil, gases, drainage water, vehicles.

Underground installations (mines, underground railways, military stores): Hazardous materials.

Aerial ropeways/cableways: Heights.

Tunnels: Risk of collapse, difficult situation for rescue work.

Roads: Vehicles, dangerous goods.

The hazards associated with the risk objects could result in fire, explosion, spills, leakage of hazardous substances, or combinations of the accidents. The natural hazards include earthquakes, tsunami, landslides, volcanic eruptions, flooding, hurricanes, etc.

Industry and Risk Assessment

People have been involved in risk management before the advent of industrial revolution. We can find elements of risk management in a quotation from the work of Pindaros, the Greek poet (518-442 BC). It goes thus: “Blind are the thoughts we cast to the future. Against all the odds innumerable things will happen’’

There is no such thing as zero risk. However, safety experts in industry have the philosophy that all industrial/ technological accidents are preventable. And they are realistic enough also to prepare response plans should such accidents occur. Some of the obstacles to the success of accident prevention may be over-confidence, apathy, or cost concerns.

Some industries and facilities will hardly have effects beyond the fence-line or boundaries of the facilities. In this case, only a limited response plan to protect the personnel and plant is required. However, high risks industries will require community response plan, as these industries are associated with greatest risks which affect the neighboring community. The overall goal of the community response plan is to prevent loss of life and property, and to ensure environmental safety in the community.

Nigeria has high risk facilities and objects and these hazardous installations require full scale emergency response plans in the affected communities. There are commercial oil and gas production facilities which produce highly toxic and radioactive wastes; four petroleum refineries, three petrochemical plants and natural gas liquefied plants (i.e NLNG); over 600 kilometers of petroleum products pipelines and over 100 kilometers of gas pipeline. Most of these high risk objects are located in the Niger Delta.

The Right of the Community to Know About Hazardous Installations

The community in the risk zone of a hazardous installation is as much a part of the environment as the air and water bodies around the facility. Citizens in communities have expressed concern about these hazardous installations and materials which could affect their health and environmental safety. The citizens concern is often termed the “Right-to-know”.

The need for and the right of communities to know about hazardous processes, materials and installations in their areas is enshrined in the Nigerian environmental regulation and international regulations, including guidelines for world industry by International Chamber of Commerce (ICC). Industry has the responsibility to provide accurate information on facilities which produce, utilize, store and transport potentially hazardous substances. The protection of trade secret (in forms of process information or formula compositions) should not prevent the disclosure of information relevant to environmental health safety of the public.

The principle of the community Right-to-know is embodied in Guidelines for World Industry issued by the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC). The Guidelines, among others, state that:

1 Industry has a responsibility to provide relevant regulatory authorities with relevant information about emissions, effluents, wastes and other environmental nuisances, including potential adverse health and environmental impacts.

2 When siting and designing its installations, industry should initiate a public debate where it can discuss information on steps it is taking to protect the local environment and meet safety requirements. The aim of the public debate must be to reach solutions mutually acceptable to industry, the regulatory authorities and the community.

3 When developing and implementing environmental protection programmes, industry should take into consideration the opinions of the general public, scientific bodies, and other concerned organizations. The industry should, where appropriate, take the lead in raising the level of awareness and understanding of these progarmmes.

4 Industry and regulators should jointly work out contingency plans to deal with emergencies and accidents associated with industrial facility and operation. In this regard, industry should provide relevant government authorities with information about the known and significant hazards of its operations, so as to enable them act quickly and adequately in the event of an emergency situation.

What and How to Communicate with the Community

Industry should foster openness and dialogue with the local community, anticipating and responding to its concern about environmental safety issue in a transparent manner. This is the very real form of environmental stewardship. The industry and the community should have and maintain relationships that provide two-way communications. This is critical to building community awareness.

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