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US head of chemical firm to face French Senate over massive factory blaze

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US head of chemical firm to face French Senate over massive factory blaze
The blaze at the Lubrizol factory in Rouen burned for almost 24 hours. Photo: SDIS/AFP
10:13 CEST+02:00
The American head of a chemicals company whose plant in northern France was ravaged by a huge fire last month, spewing a noxious black cloud for miles around, will face two parliamentary commissions on Tuesday seeking answers on the site's security.

Eric Schnur, the chief executive of Lubrizol, will appear before Senate and National Assembly commissions as the company begins the delicate task of removing around 160 damaged barrels of chemicals from the site.

The blaze at the plant in Rouen on September 26th sent billowing clouds of soot as far as 22 kilometres away, prompting evacuations and school closures over potential health risks.


Soot particles from the blaze were detected in Belgium and the Netherlands. Photo: AFP

Officials have insisted they will be completely forthcoming on the results of air, soil and water analyses, saying that so far that only limited contaminations have been detected despite the acrid fumes that deposited oily soot across the region.

But the government banned the harvesting of crops or the sale of animal products from a wide swathe of tainted countryside, a measure that was fully lifted only last Friday.

In total, officials said 5,253 tonnes of chemicals burned at the site, and an additional 4,250 tonnes at a neighbouring storage facility.


In the aftermath of the blaze locals complained of a terrible stench over the town, and may suffered sickness, headaches and dizziness. Photo: AFP 

Lubrizol, a maker of industrial lubricants and fuel additives owned by the US billionaire Warren Buffett, has not publically identified the products that burned, and the cause of the fire has not yet been determined.

Many residents have lambasted officials for the pollution and security risks of allowing the installation of a factory producing toxic chemicals just a few kilometres from the city centre of Rouen, a city of some 100,000 people.

Anger also remains rife over the government's perceived failure to communicate the full risks of the smoke and soot.


Sales of food products from the region were banned for several weeks after the fire, and farmers reported black oily soot on their land and crops. Photo: AFP

Schnur has promised to help compensate farmers for their losses, which agriculture minister Didier Guillaume estimated at €40-50 million earlier this month.

In total, about 3,000 agricultural producers were affected by the blaze, Guillaume said.

 
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