Agency Ties Mood Disorders to Rouen Fire

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Residents in proximity to Lubrizol’s lubricant additive plant in Rouen, France, experienced elevated incidence of mood disorders such as anxiety and depression after a 2019 fire burnt the facility, according to results of a survey reported last month.

The results of the survey, conducted in early 2021, are part of the controversy that continues more than two years after the incident. Government charges that Lubrizol released harmful substances into the environment are winding their way through the French court system even as investigators work to confirm where and how the blaze began.

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Meanwhile Lubrizol is seeking a permit to install a drum-filling line and to build offices where the fire occurred.

The mental health findings came from a survey conducted by Public Health France, which maintains health data, sets health guidelines and responds to health emergencies. The agency interviewed 2,000 individuals living in the path over which smoke from the fire passed. The Sept. 26, 2019 fire burned 9,500 metric tons of lubricant and fuel additives in a Lubrizol warehouse, as well as facilities on a Normandie Logistique site next door.

Six percent of individuals reported probably suffered from post-traumatic stress syndrome, 15% probably suffered from generalized anxiety and 18% probably suffered from depression, all related to the fire, the agency concluded. Incidence was higher closer to the fire. Among those living within 1,500 meters of the plant, 13% were found to probably suffer from PTSD, 24% from generalized anxiety and 29% from depression.

Residents have called for Lubrizol to reimburse individuals for costs incurred treating the conditions.

Lubrizol called the conclusions unclear.

“The survey did not show the impacts precisely, so we would … say that the survey showed potential mental health aspects and wouldn’t categorize them,” a spokesman told Lube Report.

The company and state officials have cited soil, water and air tests conducted after the fire found no evidence of chemical contamination above maximum levels prescribed by the government.

Government prosecutors have charged Lubrizol with releasing harmful chemicals into the environment, improper operation of an industrial facility classified as handling potentially hazardous substances, discharging harmful substances into surface or groundwater and discharge into surface water of substances harmful to aquatic life. Last summer a national appeals court denied Lubrizol’s motion to throw out the charges.

Cases like this typically take years to resolve.

In October, judges overseeing the case directed investigators to look further into the origin and cause of the fire. Lubrizol has contended that the blaze began on Normandie Logistique’s site, but investigators said previously that it probably started on Lubrizol’s. The judges gave investigators until Jan. 15 to return a conclusive finding.

Clean-up and future use of the area affected by the fire have been subject to government oversight. Lubrizol presented a plan to install a packaging line that would fill industrial drums with additives bound for customers. The company said it wants to build offices on part of the rest of the area and to convert the rest into green space.

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