Health effects should be systematically recorded for industrial and transport accidents involving chemicals!

Up to now, there has been no systematic recording or documentation of data for the long-term assessment of the health effects of industrial and transport accidents involving chemicals in Germany. This is confirmed by 2000 notifications of health impairments submitted to BfR since 1990 concerning 60, in some cases, major chemical accidents. Since exposure situations have not been adequately documented, important information is missing on possible sequelae suffered by those affected, local residents or emergency staff. Normally, what is missing are data on exposure, type and scale of contact between the persons involved an industrial or transport accident and a chemical. "We would like to close this gap as far as possible by systematically recording health data", explains BfR President Professor Dr. Dr. Andreas Hensel. "That’s why we have developed special forms for the notification of health data in conjunction with industrial and transport accidents".

In these special notification forms for industrial and transport accidents, data are to be systematically recorded on the concentration of substances released into the air and their spread in addition to the intoxication symptoms that occurred. The intake route (dermal, inhalational or oral) is to be described; the protective measures taken and the results of measurements of substances in blood and urine samples are to be recorded. Of importance is further the distance of the persons affected from the centre of the industrial or transport accident and the length of exposure. All these elements are essential in order to reliably estimate the long-term health consequences for the individuals affected. This group includes fire fighters as well as emergency response and security staff, residents, children playing in the vicinity or personnel involved in the cleaning up and decontamination work. The data on the individual exposure situation provide important insight into whether health damage that occurs at a later stage in various groups (adults, children, old people, pregnant women, etc.) could possibly be linked to the incident.

The standardised notification forms for industrial and transport accidents are important for generating a solid database which can contribute to estimating the health risks of the affected persons as accurately as possible. Furthermore, they are an important component in the monitoring system of the health consequences of industrial and transport accidents involving chemicals that BfR is going to establish. Up to now, only the technical data of incidents of this kind were comprehensively and systematically documented.

The form package put together by BfR consists of a plan listing the individual organisational phases for handling industrial and transport accidents, the existing notification form for intoxications pursuant to §16e Chemicals Act and a questionnaire on exposure. Furthermore, it contains a plan for systematic measurements of the environment after industrial or transport accidents that also takes account of the geographical and meteorological features of the site.

The forms are designed to facilitate the review process and follow-up of crises of this kind by public health officers, occupational health specialists, emergency doctors and other health care staff. They can be downloaded from the BfR website (German version) under “Intoxications”.

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