Rouen Fire Puts Focus on Industrial Sites

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France’s Ministry of Ecology last week implemented a system giving increased regulatory scrutiny to industrial sites that have had accidents or a history of not complying with safety regulations.

The initiative stems from a 2019 fire at a Lubrizol lubricant additive factory in Rouen, France, although that site was not among the 13 singled out by the program.

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“While the safety of industrial sites at risk is generally satisfactory throughout the country, several sites are still the subject of incidents or recurring non-conformities,” the Ministry said in a July 1 news release. “In addition, the experience feedback from the fire at Lubrizol and Normandie Logistique … showed that citizens residing near industrial sites still feel insufficiently informed of the existence of industrial installations and the risks they present.”

The new rules require the reports about inspections of the facilities in question will become public at the start of 2022. They also provide for extra monitoring of those same facilities.

The list of sites includes ExxonMobil’s refinery at Port-Jerome-sur-Seine, several processors of agricultural products, the Greater Paris Sanitation Authority and a waste recycling center.

The Lubrizol fire, which also burned part of an adjacent property managed by Normandie Logistique, occurred Sept. 26, 2019 and consumed 9,500 metric tons of chemicals used to make lube additives. No one was injured, and Lubrizol has maintained that extensive testing revealed no indications of health or safety impact to the surrounding populace or environment, but the incident is a source of ongoing tension with area residents who have expressed skepticism about the information they received from the company and local government. People have also complained that government notice of the incident and investigation of it have been inadequate.

Fallout from the incident is still ongoing. Prosecutors continue to investigate whether Lubrizol violated safety regulations or is liable for impacts of the incident after a June 30 ruling by a national appeals court denying the company’s request to quash the formal investigation. Lubrizol claimed that the investigation was compromised by irregularities, but the court disagreed.

Even before the incident, the Rouen factory was classified as a Seveso site, meaning that the government deemed it to have dangerous chemicals in quantities sufficient to pose a potential threat to the community.

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