Human activities imply a number of dangers and risks. For example, there are companies that work with hazardous substances, large numbers of us travel by road and we build enormous constructions. All these activities are associated with various degrees of risk. The dangers with a non-natural origin (accidents), which we deal with here, concern hazardous substances and nuclear power. In this Atlas you will also find background information on natural disasters. For information about water nuisance and floods we refer to water nuisance and water safety.
A substance is a hazardous substance when it is noxious, flammable or explosive, or has a combination of these characteristics. An example of a casualty involving hazardous substances is a major accident on an industrial estate. There are many companies that deal with hazardous substances which present precisely such a risk. The risk can apply to a large or small area in the vicinity. The transportation of hazardous substances also presents risks for the environment. Transport takes place via road, rail, pipelines and water.
Hazardous substances can imply the following risks:
- a large fire involving a flammable liquid, for example petrol;
- a large burning gas cloud of, for example, LPG;
- a noxious gas cloud of, for example, chlorine;
- an evaporating noxious liquid, for example ammonia;
- an explosion.
An accident in a nuclear reactor may cause people to be exposed to ionising radiation. There are three nuclear reactors in the Netherlands (the power station in Borssele and the research reactors in Petten and Delft) and four foreign nuclear reactors close to the Dutch border (the power stations in Doel, Tihange and Emsland and the research reactor in Mol).
The Municipal Public Health Services (GGD) provide advice
If an accident occurs, the resulting health risks depend on, among other things, the location and the substance released. The Municipal Public Health Services provide advice on the health risks for residents and members of the emergency services during environmental accidents involving hazardous substances and other factors.
Smoke is always harmful
Any fire is always a health risk. Indeed, any smoke is hazardous to some extent. There is no such thing as clean smoke. Consequently you should always try to prevent breathing in smoke unnecessarily. A lot of people think that smoke from a chemical substances is much more dangerous than smoke from an ordinary fire. Although this is an understandable idea, the difference is often small. In fact, chemical substances are always released whenever chemical substances, waste, paper, clean wood, candles, incense, tobacco or garden waste are burned. The same therefore applies to barbecue smoke.
Soot and dioxins
Following a fire, some of the smoke may remain in the form of soot. These soot particles can be hazardous if you swallow them or if they end up in the food chain. Soot can contain all kinds of different chemical substances. Swallowing large quantities of soot can be hazardous in the longer term. Some substances in soot, such as benzopyrene and dioxins are (possibly) carcinogenic. Soot deposits enter our bodies primarily via dirty hands and hand to mouth contact. Exposure is also possible by eating vegetables on which soot is present.
Dioxins may be deposited on grass after a fire. If cattle eat this contaminated grass, dioxins can end up in their milk. If grass or hay contain too many dioxins following a fire, these are sometimes destroyed in order to prevent the milk becoming contaminated. In the case of a large fire, cattle sometimes have to be kept indoors to prevent them eating contaminated grass. There are also health risks associated with eating plants from, for example, vegetable gardens.
In the event of an accident involving a nuclear power station people in a wide area may be exposed to ionising radiation.
Environmental safety is about how we can use the limited amount of space in the Netherlands in a safe manner and how we can minimise the risks to people posed by the storage, production, use and transport of hazardous substances in their surroundings. Environmental safety is a factor for the desired quality of the living environment in the Environmental Vision. Up until a few years ago people did not use the term environmental safety, but referred instead to external safety. That is why that term is still used so regularly.
Safety and the law
The ministerial Provincial risk map regulation describes which vulnerable premises and risky situations have to be shown on the risk map. The External Security Registration Decision makes it obligatory to register risk situations relating to hazardous substances. Companies need an environmental permit if they want to use or store hazardous substances. The Environmental Management Act determines which conditions a company has to fulfil in order to obtain a permit. In the future the new Environmental and Planning Act will replace the Environmental Management Act. The External safety of facilities decree obliges municipalities and provincial governments to take environmental safety into account when granting environmental permits. This for example means the distances between vulnerable premises and high-risk companies.
In the Netherlands there are more than 400 companies which are subject to the Major Accidents (Risks) Decree. These are companies where large quantities of hazardous substances above a certain threshold are present. Examples are chemical companies and firework storage companies. These companies have to comply with all kinds of extra rules, for example they have to produce safety reports.
The storage and use of substances
The government imposes requirements on the storage and use of hazardous substances. For example they have to be stored in special containers. In addition, adequate safety measures are obligatory when using the hazardous substances in order to prevent an accident or limit the effects of an accident. Hazardous substances may only be disposed of by specialised companies. It is also important to ensure a sufficient distance between the risk source (the company or route) and the risk recipient (a home). Risk contours are drawn up for this purpose. In principle, no building work is permitted inside this risk contour.
A calamities plan and disaster management plan must also be available and drills based on these plans must take place regularly. The managers of these facilities are responsible for on-site safety. The government's responsibility is to check whether they keep to the rules.
The Security Regions Act came into effect on 1 October 2010. This act brings together fire services, medical assistance in the event of accidents and disasters, disaster management and crisis management into a single organisation. There are 25 security regions in the Netherlands.
There are several ways in which you can prepare for a possible emergency situation:
- Put together an emergency package.
- Find out about the risks in your locality.
- Read about what you can do in connection with the various types of emergency situations.
- Set the frequency of your regional broadcaster on your (emergency) radio and/or television. This broadcaster provides government information during an emergency situation.
- Make sure you know what you have to do if the siren sounds.
- It is also a good idea to do a first aid course. That will enable you to help yourself and others, should anything happen.
- If you have a physical or mental disability, make arrangements with the people around you (family, friends, neighbours) regarding who can help you in an emergency situation.
- Are there people nearby who need extra help in an emergency situation? Discuss with them what you can do for them in the event of an emergency.
After an accident the following guidelines generally apply:
- Do not go to the site of the accident.
- Call the emergency services (1-1-2) if that has not yet been done.
- Make sure that you are at least 500 metres from the location of the accident.
- Rescue children and people who are unable to flee themselves as quickly as possible.
- Follow the instructions given by the emergency services (police or fire brigade).
- In the event of an incident or emergency situation, up-to-date information will be available at Crisis.nl.
If you cannot find any up-to-date information at crisis.nl, you will receive information in some other way, for example via your regional broadcaster (the disaster channel) or your municipality's website.
In the event of a fire the following guidelines generally apply:
- Do not go and watch a fire.
- Stand on the side away from the smoke.
- If the smoke enters your house, close windows, doors and vents and, if possible, switch off the mechanical ventilation.
- Help people around you to stay away from the smoke.
Additional instructions may be issued depending on the substance released or the accident that has occurred. For example, in the event of an accident involving ammonia, you will have to close doors and windows and, in the event of a fireworks-related accident, you will have to evacuate the area. You can find accident-specific instructions on the risk map.