A series of high-profile industrial accidents in Europe has prompted authorities to make further regulatory changes concerning hazardous substances. Cathy Hayward reports
21 October 2005
Amendments to the Control of Major Accident Hazards Regulations 1999 (Comah) came into force on 30 June 2005. The Comah (Amendment) Regulations 2005 broaden the scope of the 1999 Comah regulations to take into account recent industrial accidents and the results of research on carcinogens and substances dangerous for the environment. They implement Directive 2003/105/EC which amends Directive 96/82/EC - known as the Seveso II Directive.
Seveso II aims to prevent major accidents, or limit the consequences for people and environment nearestablishments that hold or use specific substances.
The key revision to the regulations regard changes to the lists of named dangerous substances or generic categories of substances that are used to determine whether the regulations apply and to what extent.
The amended regulations also broaden the application of Comah at mines, quarries, boreholes and waste landfill sites, and clarify some requirements in the original regulations. Other changes, largely administrative, including compliance timescales for establishments affected by the changes, and notification arrangements for petroleum products.
The application of Comah is determined by the presence of defined dangerous substances in excess of set qualifying quantities. There are two 'tiers' of regulatory oversight according to the quantities of dangerous substances present. The lower tier requires notification, development of a major accident prevention policy, the application of a land-use planning policy and inspection. The upper tier, in addition, requires a detailed safety report, production of emergency plans, and provision of information open to the public.
A regulatory impact assessment estimates that up to 158 sites will be brought into the scope of Comah. The assessment found that due to the changes in threshold categorisation the number of sites subject to the regulations has increased by around 14 per cent. Additionally, between 83 and 91 lower tier sites will move to the top tier. The assessment is available at www.hse.gov.uk/ria
The amendment regulations take into account reports of two EU technical working groups that considered the scientific and practical basis of the list of named carcinogens and the qualifying quantity assigned to them, and the qualifying quantities for substances dangerous for the environment; ie, substances that present a major accident hazard to the aquatic environment; and lessons learned from a number of major accidents that have occurred since Seveso II was adopted.
In particular: a spill of cyanide that entered the Tisza river in Baia Mare, Romania, in 2000 killing thousands of tonnes of fish following the dam burst of a tailings pond at a gold mine. A similar accident had occurred two years earlier in Aznacóllar, Spain, when a dam burst poisoned the environment in a national park; a series of explosions at a fireworks factory in Enschede in the Netherlands in 2000 that killed 20 people, injured almost 1,000 more, and caused extensive damage to a large area around the factory; and an explosion involving granular ammonium nitrate at a chemicals complex in Toulouse, France, in which 30 people died. The accident, in 2001, caused damage to premises up to 3km from the site.
According to Dr Mike Tonge, head of the Health and Safety Executive's (HSE's) Major Hazards Policy Group, the changes reflect the lessons learned from accidents in France, the Netherlands and Romania, and European Union recommendations about the major accident potential of high and medium potency carcinogens and substances dangerous for the environment.
"The amendments ensure that Comah continues to provide a high level of protection by placing appropriate controls on substances with the potential to cause significant damage to human health and the environment. The HSE advises all operators of existing Comah establishments and other businesses that use or handle dangerous chemicals to check whether they will be affected by the changes," he says.
The amendments follow the publication of a consultative document in July 2004 which set out proposals for the Control of Major Accident Hazards (Amendment) Regulations. The HSC agreed final proposals in March 2005, after which the regulations were signed and laid before Parliament on 7 April.
The full text of the Control of Major Accident Hazards (Amendment) Regulations 2005 (SI 2005 No. 1088) is available online at: www.legislation.hmso.gov.uk/si/si2005/20051088.htm
Additional information about chemicals and COMAH can be found on the HSE website at: www.hse.gov.uk/chemicals/index.htm
Amendments to Comah regulations
The main changes comprise:
a redefinition of ammonium nitrate to cover lower percentage composition, and new classes covering self-sustaining decomposition and reject material
a new named category for potassium nitrate fertilizers
the specification of seven new carcinogens, and raised threshold limits for all carcinogens
a new category for petroleum products to include gas oils such as diesel, naphtha, and kerosene including jet fuels, with thresholds that are half those of the previous automotive petrol category
the redefinition of the classes for explosives
lower qualifying thresholds for substances dangerous for the environment
a change to the aggregation rule that is applied to all substances classified as toxic, dangerous for the environment, flammable or oxidising.