The Iqoxe case and slow emergency plans
BarcelonaOn January 14 it will be a year since the terrible deadly explosion at Iqoxe chemical plant, in the La Canonja industrial estate in Tarragona. That accident caused three deaths - two workers and a neighbour who was killed by a piece of iron that was shot more than two kilometers away - and eight wounded, in addition to significant economic losses. The judicial investigation into what happened is underway and today we are offering a preview of the provisional conclusions of the summary, which shows deficits in both material and safety, in addition to many complaints of staff being overworked. In addition, aid for the neighbours affected by the explosion has also been put in place, even though it has not yet been able to reach everyone due to the slow negotiation with the insurance companies. The most worrying thing, however, is that no progress has been made in ensuring greater efficiency of the emergency plan.
At the time there was much criticism of how the alarms and air and pollution control had worked. The Special Plan for the Exterior Emergency of the Chemical Sector (Plaseqcat) still lacks sufficient resources, and it is not very reassuring that one year later the mayor of Tarragona assures us that progress is being made and that there is a commitment that in the next budgets of the Government of Catalonia there will be a priority item to provide it, for example, with a network of sensors to quickly detect the toxicity of the clouds of smoke that can be released in an incident such as the Iqoxe incident. We are therefore at least a year away from being able to do this, when it should be a priority issue affecting a large area of Catalonia.
The chemical industry in Camp de Tarragona is a source of wealth and important work for the country, but it is also a complex industry that requires special safety measures and a very strict control plan to ensure the safety of neighbours and workers in the different companies. The Iqoxe explosion was a warning and it should serve to accelerate and improve all these measures quickly to avoid it happening again. We have examples of how laziness in these controls can have disastrous results - it is not comparable, but it is worth remembering the case of Beirut, which was the result of the lack of diligence of several layers of authorities, officials and businessmen - and we must ensure that safety is strict. The residents of the Camp de Tarragona are calling for stricter chemical safety controls, a complex and very well-resourced plan that will enable them to be sure that they can live in peace.
All too often, when there has been a disaster, natural or caused by humans, there is an abundance of promise of plans to improve safety or of investment in reconstruction which is then watered down without any further knowledge. We have learnt, also through the management of the covid-19 pandemic, that anticipation and investment in sectors that we know are key, in this case health, are essential in order to deal with a future in which we now know that we cannot rule out all types of disaster. It is not a question of being a catastrophist but of being far-sighted and, above all, responsible.