Seveso Zone A

The fenced-off Zone A in Seveso, April 29, 1995

Around midday on Saturday 10 July 1976, an explosion occurred at the ICMESA chemical plant on the outskirts of Meda, a small town about 20 kilometres north of Milan, Italy. A toxic cloud containing TCDD (2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin), widely believed to be one of the most toxic man-made chemicals, was accidentally released into the atmosphere. The dioxin cloud contaminated a densely populated area about six kilometres long and one kilometre wide, lying downwind from the site. This event became internationally known as the Seveso disaster, after the name of a neighbouring municipality that was most severely affected. The Seveso disaster had a particularly traumatic effect on exposed local populations because its seriousness was recognised only gradually by the local authorities and the owner of the ICMESA plant, F. Hoffmann-La Roche. Many people had an immediate skin reaction without knowing its cause and the longterm consequences for the effected people and their offspring have yet to be seen. It was only after 3 weeks that the evacuation of the population in the worst contaminated areas was initiated. The geography around the plant was divided into zones: Zone R was the least effected area, Zone B was more heavily effected and Zone A was the worst effected area. Zone A was defined as an area for evacuation, fencing-off, and prohibited entry. All houses therein were demolished and over the next 10 years works toward decontamination took place. The surface soil was cleared away and placed in huge underground landfill basins. Around Zone A a high metal fence was build and the authorities decided at the time that the zone should stay as a closed zone for the foreseeable future. Dioxins will not decompose under normal conditions.

The Seveso disaster has somehow settled in the collective consciousness as a symbol of the dark side of advanced technology and the first significant incident that made it clear that the application of advanced technology in industry implied an array of risks. As a way of dealing with the contaminated site, Zone A was landscaped into a park and oaks were planted in clusters and meadows were laid out. The Seveso disaster settled in my consciousness and I remember the images and the newspaper headlines at the time. Years later when I learned from a scientific journal that the area had been transformed into a landscaped park, I decided I would like to go there and experience the forces of this psychologically complex site.

When I arrived in the town of Seveso the atmosphere was filled with trauma. I donít know whether it was myself projecting and inventing things or if it was a matter of tangible fact. I stayed there for 4 days and during that time I didnít talk to anybody, except regarding the most basic practical things. I was looking for the Zone and it wasnít immediately visible when drifting around in the town. At the railway station there was a map of the town, and from that it was quite easy to figure out where the Zone was situated. To the East of the station there was a big white area on the map, without any streets going through and without any specifications at all: just white. The next morning I went there and saw a park surrounded by a massive metal fence. I walked all the way around the enclosure; it was quite a journey, several kilometres. The background to my journey to Seveso was to get into the Zone and the morning after I went to a quite stretch of the fencing, climbed over and jumped into the Zone.

Zone A was a kind of a mirrored paradise. Due to the accident at the plant and the following catastrophe it seemed as though time had stopped and slowly started to reverse. Seveso Zone A appeared very close to coincide with a superreal version of paradise, before man was introduced. Paradise, according to the Bible, is a garden with fencing and the word paradise is thought exactly to mean enclosure. Seveso Zone A has a solid fence and inside the Zone is the park with trees and bushes, succeeded by vistas across small green meadows. Seveso Zone A is a place where the scientific idea of nature, which unfolds in the laboratory, has fused with the romantic idea of nature. This fusion produced an extraordinary synthesis, an area fenced-off, outside the reach of human beings.

Later I learned that the local authorities were considering opening up the park to the public.

Jakob Jakobsen 1996/2000