Localities Faulted for Response to Rouen Fire

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A French Senate inquiry last week blasted local and regional governments’ response to the September 2019 blaze at a Lubrizol lubricant additive factory in Rouen.

The governments were late and incomplete in monitoring health, issued weak sanctions and communications aimed at reassuring the public rather than informing them, the 488-page report concluded.

The inquiry affirmed complaints of citizen and environmental groups in the months following the blaze – that despite assurance by health officials, air, water and other testing was not thorough.

In February, France’s former Minister of the Environment, Corinne Le Page, told Lube Report that the public had a total lack of information on the nature of the pollution from the fire. She contended that under a 2015 French law, documents concerning safety rules aren’t required to be released publicly, giving tremendous opportunity for companies to skirt obligations to inform the public.

“In any case, the [Rouen fire] victims association and, more generally, I think, many inhabitants of the region were not at all satisfied with the way in which Lubrizol responded to their concerns,” she said.

Lubrizol said in a statement, “we fully understand the questions that have been raised around public health, but we are confident the Lubrizol materials burned in the fire do not pose any health impacts. More than 120,000 results affirm this from a variety of organizations. We’ve completed a thorough evaluation of every Lubrizol material burned, down to trace levels.”

The fire sent huge black clouds of smoke into the air. After the blaze, governments recorded more than 130 reports of citizens suffering from breathing problems and farmers forced to halt crop production, according to local news reports.

In its report, the Senate noted the number of chemical companies incurring government sanctions has fallen over the years, and it encouraged the federal government to re-examine the country’s crisis management procedures – especially in terms of communication.

A Lubrizol spokesperson explained that during a blaze of the Rouen incident’s magnitude, products will convert to their elemental form or oxides of the elements. “All of these elements are common to every-day life, including carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen. None of the products were chlorinated products, none included heavy metals and none included carcinogens. None of the Lubrizol materials that burned in the fire cause health impacts in the short term or longer term. These are facts based on well-understood science and supported by comprehensive testing,” the spokesperson said.

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