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Seveso Accidental Release Case History


Ronald J. Willey (Northeastern University)


This presentation describes a widely discussed case history that illustrates how minor engineering errors can cause significant problems; problems that should not be repeated. The accident was in Seveso, Italy in 1976. It was a small release of a dioxin that caused many serious injuries.

The package can be used in an undergraduate classroom or an industrial training session. The package can be modified to fit different contexts including: reaction engineering (runaway reactions), heat transfer (heat transport from the reactor walls to the liquid), mass transfer (the resultant dispersion of material from a release), and reaction stoichiometry. The entire module can be presented in about 50 minutes.

The Seveso case history is an especially good teaching module, showing how a minor problem and a minor release can cause very serious injuries. The root cause of this release included a poor engineering design, operator negligence, and poor supervision. The intent of this teaching module is to motivate engineers and supervisors to pay attention to the details.

This product includes five excellent problems and solutions that illustrate the lessons to be learned from this case history. The problems can be used in the following courses: a) Stoichiometry, b) Thermodynamics, c) Kinetics, d) Heat Transfer, and e) Ethics. Or they can be used in industrial training sessions in the areas of process design and engineering management.

Suggested courses that can use this product

  • Material/Energy Balances (Fundamentals)
  • Heat Transfer
  • Thermodynamics
  • Chemical Reactions/Kinetics
  • Design
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