Chemicals Everywhere. But Where Exactly?
By exploring the space dimension at both the macro- and micro-scale, we uncover complex chemical heterogeneity and hidden patterns – and position analytical science as an essential tool in efforts to address the many deep issues facing society in the urban millennium.
Enrico Davoli |
July 10, 1976.
Chemical company ICMESA was manufacturing trichlorophenol (an active ingredient of herbicides) and an intermediate product for hexaclorophene (an antibiotic). The new synthetic pathway, developed by Givaudan chemists (1), was profitable but dangerous – it can result in an exothermic side reaction. Just after midday on an otherwise peaceful Saturday an accident occurred, releasing a six-tonne chemical "cloud". The cloud carried a miscellanea of toxic compounds, including dioxin (2,3,7,8 TCDD), which caused severe pollution in the densely populated Italian municipality – the so-called “Seveso disaster” (Figure 1).
Intensive monitoring plans were made to map the risk to the population – and assess the need for quarantines and decontamination. Back in 1976, mass spectrometers were available in Italy, but only in a limited number of laboratories, mainly in the petrochemical industry (2). The Mario Negri Institute cooperated in the analysis of dioxin congeners in thousands of samples to map soil and ecosystem contamination (3).
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