Industrial processes at the chemical complex of Chemelot in the Province of Limburg involve the large-scale processing of hazardous substances. The site also accommodates a research and education campus that is home to a community of researchers and students of around 2,500 people, on average. Chemelot is in the immediate vicinity of several residential districts in the municipalities of Sittard-Geleen, Stein and Beek. One special feature of Chemelot is that all the businesses and institutions located there come under a single, overarching environmental and planning permit. In 2016 the Limburg chemical complex of Chemelot witnessed four incidents: three serious emissions of hazardous substances and one fatal accident. The Dutch Safety Board has conducted an investigation to find out how parties at Chemelot control safety as well as to identify any shortcomings and weaknesses.

Publication research

Summary

The Chemelot industrial complex in South Limburg is one of the six chemical clusters in the Netherlands. The 800-hectare site encompasses over 150 different companies and institutions. A large number of companies carry out high-risk industrial activities at Chemelot. Eleven of those companies work with hazardous substances on a large scale, as a result of which they must comply with the regulations of the Major Accidents (Risks) Decree (Besluit risico’s zware ongevallen, Brzo).

In 2016, four major incidents took place involving Brzo companies at Chemelot: one accident that resulted in a death as well as a serious injury and three incidents with an emission of hazardous substances from chemical processing plants. Similarly, various incidents took place at the complex in 2015. As a result of these incidents, the Dutch Safety Board has decided to investigate how parties at Chemelot control safety as well as to identify what shortcomings and weaknesses there are.

The companies at Chemelot endeavour to control the safety risks of the chemical processing plants by complying with the existing standards and legal obligations. In addition, the relevant authorities use their legal options to monitor safety in and around Chemelot. Although the efforts of companies and the authorities contribute to ensuring safety at the industrial complex, they are insufficient to achieve the high level of safety that is required given the location and size of the complex, the presence of the Campus and Chemelot’s ambitions for growth.

Chemelot’s special circumstances

Chemelot is special as an industrial complex in three respects. First, it is situated within a densely populated area adjacent to the residential areas of Sittard-Geleen, Stein and Beek. In order to ensure the safety and well-being of local residents, the companies are required to do their utmost in order to minimise the risks of their operations.

Second, Chemelot grew out of a site where a single company (DSM) previously operated all chemical plants. After DSM began divesting its activities at the site and sold off its plants, Chemelot grew into a multi-user industrial complex with a large number of different companies. Many of the industrial activities are still closely linked to one another. As a result, the various companies have developed a system of cooperation over the years, in which the umbrella environmental site permit for all companies within the complex plays a key role. This umbrella site permit ensures that the cooperation between relevant companies is not optional and gives the Chemelot Site Permit B.V. partnership (CSP) formal powers over the ensemble of companies where permit compliance is concerned. The permit is the only umbrella permit of its kind for a chemical cluster of this size in the Netherlands and therefore requires a tailored approach from the regulators.

Third, the Chemelot Campus for chemistry-related research and education is located within the industrial complex. For the Province of Limburg, further development of Chemelot and of the Campus in particular is a key priority of economic policy. The Campus currently employs roughly 2,500 researchers, entrepreneurs and students. Their presence in the vicinity of Brzo companies is an additional safety risk. Although the Campus within the industrial complex derives its existence from the relationship with the chemical companies at Chemelot, there is often no relationship with the activities at the Industrial Park, particularly for the new activities at the Campus. As such, the potential synergy between the knowledge development at the Campus and the industrial activities goes unused.

In the Vision Chemelot 2025 (Visie Chemelot 2025), the parties at Chemelot expressed the desire to become the most competitive and sustainable chemicals and materials site in Western Europe as well as to develop the Chemelot Campus further. Given its location in the vicinity of an urban environment as well as the large number of people that work at the Chemelot industrial complex and the Campus, controlling process safety of the chemical plants at Chemelot is crucial to Chemelot’s licence to operate. The growth ambitions previously outlined make this priority all the more urgent, as they require a high level of safety.

Recommendations

The Dutch Safety Board makes the following recommendations.

To the Brzo companies at Chemelot, Chemelot Site Permit B.V. and Stichting Chemelot:

1. Formulate ambitious safety objectives for the Chemelot industrial complex and ensure that they become an integral part of the Vision Chemelot 2025;

2. Implement a safety approach to execute the ambitions and commitments to safety that Chemelot has as a whole;

3. Strengthen the management of Chemelot by adding a critical and independent form of checks and balances to the governance of Chemelot;

To the management and shareholders of Brightlands Chemelot Campus and Chemelot
Site Permit B.V.:
4. Implement an explicit and transparent process for the consideration of the interests when deciding between the expansion or adaptation of non-industrial activities at Chemelot and the safety risks to the people present.
To the Provincial Executive of the Province of Limburg:

5. Formulate an ambitious and detailed vision in collaboration with the surrounding municipalities in order to promote safety at Chemelot as well as in the surrounding area.

 

Media

Chemistry in cooperation - Safety at the Chemelot industrial complex

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Updates

  • Press

    Meer samenwerking nodig voor veilig Chemelot

  • News

    Onderzoek naar veiligheid industriecomplex Chemelot

Investigation data

Theme Industry

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Publication date report

Status Completed

Phase Publication