The gov­ern­ment and its up­side down poli­cies

Ma­jor in­dus­trial ac­ci­dents in­volv­ing dan­ger­ous chem­i­cals pose a sig­nif­i­cant threat to hu­mans and the en­vi­ron­ment. Fur­ther­more, such ac­ci­dents cause huge eco­nomic losses and dis­rupt sus­tain­able growth.

Malta Independent - - DEBATE & ANALYSIS - michael.as­ciak@par­la­ment.mt Dr As­ciak is a Se­nior Lec­turer II in the In­sti­tute of Ap­plied Sci­ence at MCAST. Michael As­ciak

How­ever, the use of large amounts of dan­ger­ous chem­i­cals is un­avoid­able in some in­dus­try sec­tors which are vi­tal for a mod­ern in­dus­tri­alised so­ci­ety. To min­imise the as­so­ci­ated risks, mea­sures are nec­es­sary to pre­vent ma­jor ac­ci­dents and to en­sure ap­pro­pri­ate pre­pared­ness and re­sponse should such ac­ci­dents hap­pen.

In Europe, the cat­a­strophic ac­ci­dent in the Ital­ian town of Seveso in1976 prompted the adop­tion of leg­is­la­tion on the preven­tion and con­trol of such ac­ci­dents. The so-called Seveso-Di­rec­tive (Di­rec­tive 82/501/EEC) was later amended in view of the lessons learned from later ac­ci­dents such as Bhopal, Toulouse or En­schede re­sult­ing in Seveso-II (Di­rec­tive 96/82/EC). In 2012 Seveso-III (Di­rec­tive 2012/18/EU) was adopted tak­ing into ac­count, among oth­ers, the changes in Union leg­is­la­tion on the clas­si­fi­ca­tion of chem­i­cals and in­creased rights for cit­i­zens to ac­cess in­for­ma­tion and jus­tice. It re­places the pre­vi­ous Seveso II di­rec­tive. The Di­rec­tive now ap­plies to more than 10,000 in­dus­trial es­tab­lish­ments in the Euro­pean Union where dan­ger­ous sub­stances are used or stored in large quan­ti­ties, mainly in the chem­i­cal, petro­chem­i­cal, lo­gis­tics and metal re­fin­ing sec­tors. Con­sid­er­ing the very high rate of in­dus­tri­al­i­sa­tion in the Euro­pean Union, the Seveso Di­rec­tive has con­trib­uted to achiev­ing a low fre­quency of ma­jor ac­ci­dents. The Di­rec­tive is widely con­sid­ered as a bench­mark for in­dus­trial ac­ci­dent pol­icy and has been a role model for leg­is­la­tion in many coun­tries world­wide.

When Malta joined the EU it had to trans­pose all EU leg­is­la­tion onto its statute books, so that the Seveso Di­rec­tive is now part of EU law and is over­seen in Malta by the Oc­cu­pa­tional Health and Safety Author­ity. It fore­sees that the proper risk as­sess­ments are car­ried out to iden­tify the dan­gers that both work­ers and res­i­dents could be ex­posed to at these sites and en­sures that the rel­e­vant com­pany has a suf­fi­ciently pre­pared state-of-the art risk man­age­ment plan! It is funny how this gov­ern­ment is now stor­ing com­bustible and po­ten­tially ex­plo­sive LNG gas in the bunker­ing ship at Marsaxlokk Bay but re­fuses to pub­lish the risk as­sess­ment re­port! Why should such a risk as­sess­ment re­port fail to be pub­lished may I ask? Is it be­cause there is some­thing it does not want any res­i­dent to see? Is it be­cause the po­ten­tial dan­gers to the res­i­dents of the area and beyond, which can come about due to this LNG stor­age, could cause panic or alarm to the res­i­dents con­cerned? Are peo­ples’ lives in any par­tic­u­lar dan­ger? Will the value of prop­er­ties in the area de­pre­ci­ate be­cause of the new added dan­gers? Nor­mally, com­mer­cial en­ti­ties and gov­ern­ments are sup­posed to is­sue these stud­ies be­fore a fait ac­com­pli and not af­ter. Con­sid­er­ing that the ship is now al­ready here, it seems that like in many other things, the gov­ern­ment is putting the cart be­fore the horse and has some­thing to hide which it does not want peo­ple to know about, bring­ing to mind the Arch­bishop’s ex­cel­lent speech at Mass on oc­ca­sion of our In­de­pen­dence Day, a speech that un­der­lined the dan­gers of gov­ern­ment by covert op­er­a­tions. Some­thing is amiss here and I do not like it at all! Why hide es­sen­tial in­for­ma­tion?

The Par­lia­men­tary Com­mit­tee set up to re­view the use of the morn­ing-af­ter pill has fi­nalised its con­clu­sions and pub­lished them! It has, to­gether with the Medical Coun­cil, wisely sug­gested that if this pill is made avail­able by the Medicines Author­ity, it should be made avail­able on pre­scrip­tion only. En­ter Min­is­ter He­lena Dalli who ob­jects to this pru­dent sug­ges­tion and states that she wants this pill avail­able over the counter (OTC) for ev­ery­one be­cause of women’s right over their own body (it seems a few, in­clud­ing her­self, do not want to de­fend the life of an ex­ist­ing hu­man em­bryo or to cham­pion the rights to life of this seem­ingly bot­tom-line non-en­tity for some!). This state­ment is set to ap­pease the few women who are vo­cif­er­ously cam­paign­ing in favour of hav­ing the pill avail­able OTC. I have al­ready stated that if this hap­pens, there is a pub­lic health is­sue in­volved be­cause since nor­mal con­tra­cep­tive pills are only avail­able on pre­scrip­tion, it would be eas­ier for a woman to sim­ply use an OTC emer­gency con­tra­cep­tive, than bother to use proper con­tra­cep­tion which is more ad­e­quate and safe in the long run. Min­is­ter He­lena Dalli has her own agenda, but may I re­mind her that she has no medical train­ing or medical knowl­edge at all and that in go­ing against the ad­vice given by the medical es­tab­lish­ment she is putting many women at risk from OTC emer­gency con­tra­cep­tion use and pos­si­bly rais­ing mor­tal­ity and mor­bid­ity rates. She should dis­cuss these is­sues in Cab­i­net and take the ad­vice of the De­part­ment and Min­istry of Health! She is oth­er­wise be­ing very pre­sump­tu­ous with her po­si­tion and could make her­self li­able to in­dem­nity is­sues.

There are sev­eral con­traindi­ca­tions to this pill and there is a dan­ger of mask­ing an ec­topic preg­nancy in a woman if this oc­curs, as the ef­fects of the pill are sim­i­lar to symp­toms of an ec­topic preg­nancy which if missed, think­ing it the ef­fects of the MAP, can be fatal.

The UK Gov­ern­ment’s Chief Medical Of­fi­cer had warned doc­tors a cou­ple of years back, to be ex­tra vig­i­lant over the pow­er­ful Levonorgestrel emer­gency con­tra­cep­tive hor­mone pill. Its mak­ers, Scher­ing Health Care, had been or­dered to change the word­ing of pa­tient in­for­ma­tion leaflets to make clear the po­ten­tial risk of ec­topic preg­nancy or its mask­ing ef­fects, where an em­bryo im­plants out­side the womb in a fal­lop­ian tube. The con­di­tion can lead to in­ter­nal bleed­ing and damage fer­til­ity, if not cause death. The morn­ing-af­ter pill (Levonorgestrel) may pre­vent an em­bryo im­plant­ing in the womb. It has a 95 per cent suc­cess rate if taken within 24 hours af­ter un­pro­tected sex, of­fi­cial fig­ures have re­vealed, but this falls to just 58 per cent af­ter 49 to 72 hours. Of the women who have main­tained a preg­nancy de­spite tak­ing it, more than one in 20 has suf­fered an ec­topic preg­nancy. A Scher­ing Health Care spokesman had said that sci­en­tists be­lieve that, in some women, the pill may slow the jour­ney of the egg to the womb by af­fect­ing tiny hairs in­side the fal­lop­ian tubes. This could ex­plain why, if Levonorgestrel has failed to pre­vent ovu­la­tion and fer­til­i­sa­tion be­cause of the tim­ing when tak­ing the pill, an em­bryo pro­duced could still im­plant in the fal­lop­ian tube in­stead of the womb. Pro­fes­sor Liam Don­ald­son, the Chief Medical Of­fi­cer, had is­sued guid­ance-to doc­tors and health pro­fes­sion­als af­ter the con­cerns over Levonorgestrel were dis­cussed by the gov­ern­ment’s Com­mit­tee on Safety of Medicines. Medics had been told to be particularly vig­i­lant with women who had suf­fered a pre­vi­ous ec­topic preg­nancy, those with pelvic in­flam­ma­tory dis­ease or those who had surgery on their fal­lop­ian tubes.

There is a word in Mal­tese which ap­plies when some­body who does not un­der­stand the work­ings of a par­tic­u­lar dis­ci­pline per­sists in ex­press­ing an opin­ion on some­thing they hardly know any­thing about. The word is ‘pruzun­tuz’ (pre­sump­tu­ous) or in sev­eral cases ‘pruzun­tuza’! Un­for­tu­nately, we not only have a pre­sump­tu­ous gov­ern­ment and a Cab­i­net of Min­is­ters, but also one which hides in­for­ma­tion from the com­mon man (and woman)!

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