Lubrizol fire in Rouen: the fire is out, but concerns remain

In the aftermath of the spectacular fire at the Lubrizol factory in Rouen, which caused no casualties, concerns remain about the health and ecological consequences of this industrial accident, and the dangerous nature of the site.

Lubrizol fire in Rouen: the fire is out

In the aftermath of the spectacular fire at the Lubrizol factory in Rouen, which caused no casualties, concerns remain about the health and ecological consequences of this industrial accident, and the dangerous nature of the site.

“I understand this concern because it was extremely impressive. The prefecture was in the axis of the plume ”which measured up to 22 km long, declared Friday morning the prefect of Normandy Pierre-André Durand on France Bleu Normandie Seine-maritime / Eure, repeating that this smoke did not present“ no acute toxicity ”.

Triggered Thursday around 2:40 am, “under control” around 11 am, the fire was extinguished Friday morning, but the firefighters remained on site to monitor the hot spots, which “will take several days”, said the senior official. This industrial disaster caused no victims, according to the authorities.

While an “unpleasant” smell of hydrocarbon, according to the prefect, persisted on Friday morning in Rouen and white smoke still emanated from the factory, a number of residents or people who were in Rouen on Thursday complained of throat irritation. But “beyond the irritant side to the eyes or the respiratory mucous membranes”, linked to “hydrocarbon odors”, “there is no acute toxicity. We are not faced with a cloud of chlorine ”, confirmed general practitioner Stéphane Pertuet questioned by the radio.

Schools remain closed in 12 municipalities in the agglomeration of 500,000 inhabitants until Monday morning. And it is recommended that fragile people stay in shelter until Friday evening in these cities and asked farmers to ensure that their animals “do not eat contaminated food”.

The “few” inhabitants of a perimeter of 500 meters around the factory evacuated Thursday morning were able to return to their homes Thursday evening, according to the prefecture. After the deployment of dams, pollution of the Seine was avoided, according to the authorities.

“Scandalous”

This second serious accident in less than seven years in this factory, where hydrocarbons and motor oil additives burned Thursday, aroused indignation and questions on Friday morning.

“It is scandalous for the State to say that the Lubrizol group respects the regulations in its factory in Rouen when we have just had such a fire”, estimated Gérald Le Corre, head of the departmental union CGT, questioned by AFP.

The plant which belongs to the American chemicals group Lubrizol Corporation, itself owned by Berkshire Hathaway, the holding company of billionaire and famous American investor Warren Buffett, “is up to standards as we saw it in 2019,” said the prefect on Thursday, even if “it has not always been”.

“There is this leniency with the industrialists because behind, there is employment. We must defend employment but of high quality ”, continued the trade unionist.

In January 2013, after a smelly gas leak, Lubrizol France was fined 4,000 euros in 2014, a sum as low as “pocket money”, in the eyes of Mr. Le Corre who calls for checks independent and regrets that Lubrizol was not prosecuted for endangering the lives of others in this case.

Regarding the fire on Thursday, the prosecution announced the opening of an investigation for involuntary destruction, a qualification which “may eventually change”.

The Robin Hood environmental association also demanded on Friday that “factories like Lubrizol be much more closely monitored” and that the prefect initiates an environmental investigation.

Asked by AFP, his spokesperson Jacky Bonnemains also points to “the diffuse but major problem of the clogging and pollution of many courtyards, facades, cars. If people clean it up at the Kärcher, we will end up with polluted water that will end up either in the Seine or in the wastewater treatment plant ”.

For him, it is also necessary to monitor the networks of the factory “completely saturated” because “there is a risk of migration of hydrocarbons and other toxic waste into the water tables”.

In January 2013, the gas and mercaptan leak on the site had caused a foul-smelling cloud that had spread to Ile-de-France and England, inconveniencing millions of people.

(with AFP)