Fire breaks out at a French chemicals plant

Article by Amanda Jasi

Smoke billowing from the fire at the Lubrizol factory in Rouen, France

A FIRE broke out at a Lubrizol chemicals factory in Rouen, France, in the early hours of 26 September.

Local fire and emergency responders acted promptly, and according to the specialty chemicals company the fire was completely extinguished by 16:30 on 26 September. According to Prefect Pierre-Andre Durand, firefighters remained on site to monitor hotspots,  “which could take several days”, reports European news company Euronews. No injuries were reported.

The site is used for the manufacture and packaging of additives for lubricants and paints. The site is SEVESO classified, according to the EU Directive aimed at minimising the risk associated with handling large amounts of dangerous chemicals.

The fire impacted the drumming and warehousing assets at the site, as well as a neighbouring warehouse.

Multiregional European news publisher The Local, reports that sirens sounded in Rouen and the nearby town of Le Petit-Quevilly. The official Minister of the Interior twitter page warned Rouen residents to avoid the fumes by staying inside as much as possible, as a precaution. According to Euronews, a 500 m perimeter was created around the site, residents in nearby towns were asked to stay home, and nearby schools were closed.

The “acrid black smoke” that billowed from the fire spread 22 km , reports AFP. The report adds, that Minister of the Interior Christopher Castaner said that although the smoke contained compounds hazardous to health, there was no “particular danger”, according to initial analyses. According to Euronews, the scent lingered until Friday morning and there were complaints about throat, and eye irritation.

AFP reports that soot covered streets, pavements, and cars in Preaux, a town about 15 km northeast from Rouen, according to Preaux’s Deputy Mayor Jean-Claude Bleuzen.

Residents have been warned not to touch soot or other particles on the ground, and not to eat fruit or vegetables from gardens unless they are thoroughly washed, reports AFP.

Environmental testing by local authorities does not indicate any acute toxicity of the smoke.

Shelter and travel restrictions had been lifted by 16:30 on 26 September, according to a Lubrizol update. However, according to AFP, Durand said people with health problems were being advised to stay in their homes until Friday evening. Additionally, nearby schools and creches are to remain shut until Monday, AFP adds. 

The cause of the fire is unknown. According to Euronews, an investigation is underway.

Environmental impacts

The Rouen factory where the fire occurred in located by the River Seine, one of France’s biggest rivers. The 777 km long river travels from northwest Dijon in Northern France, through Paris, and into the English Channel at Le Havre.

According to the AFP, Durand said there is a risk of fuel or wastewater pollution into the Seine if the retainment ponds overflow, but floating anti-pollution booms were placed alongside parts of the river. The report adds that according to Durand, there is no pollution downstream and if the tide comes in and causes an overflow “it will be easy to recover because it's on the surface”.

Other incidents have occurred at Lubrizol’s Rouen factory in the past. In 2013, a gas leak at the site spread a foul smell to Paris, and as far as the South-East of England. Two years later, in 2015, 2,000 L of mineral oil leaked from the site into the local sewer system.

Euronews reports that unions are calling for Lubrizol to tighten the factory’s restrictions to avoid future “catastrophe”. The report adds that Environmental Protection NGO Robin de Bois wants “factories like Lubrizol to be more closely monitored” and for an environmental investigation to be launched.

Article by Amanda Jasi

Staff reporter, The Chemical Engineer

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