Nube Tossica (15 Jun)

The industrial area of Venice, Porto Marghera.

For those who were in Venice and its mainland areas, November 28, 2002 is a significant day. That date bears no special meaning: there is no bank holiday, no anniversary, no celebration. Even most locals won’t remember why that day is significant. Yet, thousands neared death by suffocation on November 28, 2002 due to hazardous materials almost escaping a tank in the Venice industrial area during a fire. That night, local and national politicians, experts, firefighters, and the poorly informed population held their breath, awaiting not only to know whether those chemicals indeed leaked in the explosion, but also which way the wind was blowing.

Phosgene, that is the name of the poison that was about to kill and severely harm thousands of Venetians and visiting tourists, is one of the substances responsible for the Bhopal disaster in India, one of the worst industrial accidents of all time. In Bhopal too, wind played a major role. A swift wind delivered the lethal fumes to densely populated areas. The Indian industrial site turned into a grave.

Phosgene is a heavy gas, heavier than air. It travels close to the ground, relatively slowly. Some argue that if a light wind had not been blowing across Venice and its industrial areas the night of November 28, 2002, the leaking phosgene would have caused even more trouble. We will never know. The explosion was eventually contained, and even if it happened 20 meters away from the Phosgene storage, chance had it that the most dangerous tanks remained intact and the chemical bomb didn’t go off.

The wind has a double face, just like Venice. They are both bitter and sweet. Random variables in speed and direction could change the wind from saviour to killer. Likewise, the picturesque and pleasant Venice that Venetians like to sell to tourists hides its present as a post-industrial city, hazards included.

Contributed by: Piero Bisello