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Fields & Applications Chemical, Mass Spectrometry, Environmental

Chemicals Everywhere. But Where Exactly?

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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About the Author

Enrico Davoli

Enrico Davoli is Head of the Mass Spectrometry Laboratory in the Environmental Health Sciences Department at IRCCS Istituto di Recerche Farmocologiche “Mario Negri”, Milan, Italy.

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