Environment: The Deadly Cloud

As soldiers stood guard in the northern Italian town of Seveso, hundreds of villagers last week loaded into their cars or hand-drawn carts the few belongings they were allowed to take, then fled southward. Behind them they left the bodies of scores of animals in a desolated area now sealed off by barbed wire. The cause of the exodus: a cloud of toxic gas caused by an explosion at a chemical plant in Meda, twelve miles north of Milan.

Seveso's nightmare originated at Icmesa, a chemical plant that makes trichlorophenol, which is used in manufacturing disinfectant soaps and deodorants. The process can...

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