French chemical factory explosion – what we know so far

As firefighters continue to battle to get the blaze under control at a French factory that manufactures toxic chemicals, here is what we know about the explosion.

French chemical factory explosion - what we know so far
Photo: AFP

So what happened?

The residents of Rouen were awakened in the early hours of Thursday by a several massive explosions. The explosions came from the nearby Lubrizol factory, where fire had broken out at 2.50am.


READ ALSO UPDATE River Seine at risk of pollution after massive explosion at French chemical factory

The fire started in a storage facility for packaged products such as lubricant additives, according to a spokesman for the company. The series of large explosions, described as “very shocking” by local residents, were caused by oil that had leaked due to the fire.

Around 150 firefighters were quickly at the scene and began work to contain the blaze, but as dawn broke on Thursday the massive plume of smoke from the factory could be seen from several kilometres away.

Is there a risk to local people?

The factory is designed a Seveso site, which means there is a high risk because of the toxic nature of the chemicals it produces. Owned by an American parent company, the Rouen factory produces additives for oils and industrial lubricants.

Although the enormous plume of thick black smoke looks highly dramatic, local officials say that there is “no acute toxicity in the main molecules” at least according to initial analysis.

However the Préfecture of Seine-Maritime has put in place a series of precautionary measures. A 500m exclusion zone has been put in place around the factory.

Residents outside the zone have not been evacuated, but have been advised to stay indoors and “limit their movements as much as possible”.

Clouds of thick black smoke can seen from several kilometres away. Photo: AFP

The préfecture has also closed all schools and nurseries in Rouen itself and also in 11 communes to the north of the city – the direction the smoke is currently blowing in. The areas affected are Bois-Guillaume, Mont-St Aignan, Isneauville, Quincampoix, St Georges-sur-Fontaine, St André/Cailly, la Rue-St-Pierre, St Germain s/Cailly, Cailly, Bosc-Guérard, Canteleu, Bihorel

Local officials say there is also a risk that the River Seine – which runs through Rouen – could be polluted if retention ponds overflow.

Despite this, French authorities say there is no need to panic.

Interior Minister Christope Castaner told French radio station RTL: “Let's not panic about this situation, but we need to be very careful. There is nothing to make us believe there is a risk from the smoke.”


What is a Seveso site?

There are 1,300 sites in France, and they are factories or manufacturing plants that have been identified as risky by authorities because of their “association with certain hazardous industrial activities”.

It's named after the town of Seveso in Italy, which was the site of a devastating industrial accident in 1976 which saw high levels of the toxic chemical dioxin released into the air. The disaster prompted a Europe-wide approach to identifying and classifying high-risk sites.

You can click here to get an interactive version of the map of Seveso sites in France.

What now?

Around 150 firefighters were still at the scene by the late morning and said they were working to protect other areas of the factory to prevent more chemicals catching fire or exploding.

Shortly before midday, a fire service spokesman said that the blaze was “contained but not out”.

They say there are dangerous products on the site and they need to prevent the risk of further contamination.

The 500m exclusion zone is likely to remain in place for some time. There have been no reports of injuries.

Local authorities have opened a public information line for anyone concerned about the blaze. Call 02 32 76 55 66 for more details.





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Snobs, beaches and drunks – 5 things this joke map teaches us about France

A popular joke 'map' of France has once again been widely shared on social media, sparking endless jokes at the expense of certain regions of France.

Snobs, beaches and drunks - 5 things this joke map teaches us about France
Image AFP/
But while the map – created by – is clearly intended to be comic, it teaches us some important points about France’s regional divides, local stereotypes and in-jokes.

Here are some of the key points.
1. Everyone hates Parisians
The map is purportedly France as seen through the eyes of Parisians, and contains a series of snobbish and rude generalisations about every part of France that is not maison (home) in the capital and its surroundings. The great majority of the country is labelled simply as paysans (peasants).
The general stereotype about Parisians is that they are snobs, rudely judging the rest of the country which they regard as backwards and full of ploucs (yokels) apart from small areas which make nice holiday destinations.
Like all sweeping generalisations, this is true of some people and very much not of others, but one of the few things that can unite people from all areas of France is how much they hate les parigots têtes de veaux (a colloquialism that very roughly translates as ‘asshole Parisians’)
2. Staycations rule
Even before Covid-related travel restrictions, holidaying within France was the norm for many French people.
As the map shows, Parisians regard the southern and western coastlines as simply plages (beaches) which they decamp to for at least a month in July or August. In the height of summer French cities tend to empty out (apart from tourists) as locals head to the seaside or the countryside.
In winter the Pyrenees and Alps are popular ski destinations.
3. Northerners like a drink
There is a very widespread stereotype, although not really backed up by evidence, that the people of Normandy, Brittany and the Nord area like a drink or two. Many suggest this is to cope with the weather, which does tend to be rainier than the rest of France (although has plenty of sunshine too).
Official health data doesn’t really back this up, as none of these areas show a significantly greater than average rate of daily drinkers, although Nord does hold the sad record for the highest rate of people dying from alcohol-related liver disease.
What’s certainly true is that Brittany and Normandy are cider country, with delicious locally-produced ciders on sale everywhere, well worth a try if you are visiting.
4. Poverty
The map labels the north eastern corner of France as simply pauvres – the poor.
The north east of the country was once France’s industrial and coal-mining heartland, and as traditional industries have declined there are indeed pockets of extreme poverty and high unemployment. The novel The End of Eddy, telling the story of novelist Edouard Louis’ childhood in a struggling small town near Amiens, lays out the social problems of such areas in stark detail.
However poverty is not just confined to one corner of France and the département that records the highest levels of deprivation is actually Seine-Saint-Denis in the Paris suburbs.
5. Southern prejudice
According to the map, those from the south are either branleurs (slackers) or menteurs (liars). 
This isn’t true, obviously, there are many lovely, hard-working and truthful people in southern France, but the persistent stereotype is that they are lazy – maybe because it’s too hot to do much work – and slightly shifty.
Even people who aren’t actually rude about southerners can be pretty patronising, as shown when south west native Jean Castex became the prime minister in summer 2020. 
Castex has a noticeable south west accent which sparked much comment from the Paris-based media and political classes, with comments ranging from the patronising – “I love his accent, I feel like I’m on holiday” – to the very patronising – “that accent is a bit rugby” (a reference to the fact that TV rugby commentators often come from France’s rugby heartlands in the south west).
In his first year as PM, Castex has undertaken a dizzying schedule of appointments around the four corners of France, so hopefully the lazy myth can now be put to bed.
And anyone tempted to take the piss out of his accent – glottophobie (accent prejudice) is now a crime in France.
For more maps that reflect France, head to