French arm of US chemical giant Lubrizol charged over toxic factory blaze

French prosecutors announced on Thursday they have charged the French subsidiary of US chemicals firm Lubrizol over a massive fire at a factory in northern France that spewed a vast cloud of acrid smoke across the region.

French arm of US chemical giant Lubrizol charged over toxic factory blaze
A huge cloud of toxic black smoke hung over Rouen for several days. Photo: SDIS 6

Lubrizol is owned by American billionaire Warren Buffett. Lubrizol France was charged with pollution and a failure to meet safety standards that resulted in “serious injury to health, security, or substantially degraded wildlife, flora, air, soil or water quality,” the Paris prosecutor's office said in a statement.

Lubrizol France was also ordered to pay a holding amount of €375,000 and further security of €4 million, “to guarantee the rights of victims by allowing for the repair of human and environmental damage that may have been caused”.

The amounts “correspond to the magnitude of the disaster,” said the statement, while adding investigators have not yet established the cause of the fire.

The fire at the toxic chemical plant broke out in the early hours of the morning in September after residents were woken by a series of explosions.

The smoke reached Belgium and the Netherlands. Photo: AFP

The cloud of thick black smoke spewing out of the site of the Lubrizol factory reached as far as Belgium and the Netherlands, with soot deposits found in both countries, according to the Centre de crise de Wallonie (CRC-W).

After battling the blaze for 24 hours firefighters finally managed to bring it under control, but smoke and soot hung over the town and surrounding areas for days, with locals complaining of a noxious smell hanging over the town, causing headaches and nausea. 

The soot also affected surrounding farmland and the sale of crops or animal products from 100 districts around Rouen was banned in the immediate aftermath of the blaze.

Oily black soot was seen on crops in nearby fields after the blaze. Photo: AFP

Schools in the town and surrounding areas were also closed as a massive clean-up operation began.

It is not the first time that he factory – which was designated a Seveso site, meaning that there was a high risk from the chemicals it produced – had hit the headlines. In 2013 a gas leak from the same factory created a terrible smell that reached as far as England.

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French rugby boss quits after corruption conviction

Bernard Laporte on Friday resigned his role as president of France's rugby union federation after being convicted of corruption, the sports minister said.

French rugby boss quits after corruption conviction

“I can confirm that Bernard Laporte has resigned,” Amelie Oudea-Castera told reporters after a meeting of the federation’s top officials at its headquarters in Marcoussis near Paris.

Laporte, 58, who as coach guided France to the World Cup semi-finals in 2003 and 2007, received a two-year suspended prison sentence in December.

A court found he had shown favouritism in awarding a shirt sponsorship contract for the national side to Mohed Altrad, the billionaire owner of Top 14 champions Montpellier.

The affair has clouded France’s preparations to host the 2023 Rugby World Cup, the sport’s global showpiece event, which kicks off on September 8th.

Laporte, a charismatic but sometimes abrasive figure who had been at the helm of French rugby since 2016, had already stepped down from his role as vice-chairman of the sport’s global governing body, World Rugby.

In addition to his suspended prison sentence he was banned in December from holding any rugby post for two years, but this is suspended pending an appeal.

Laporte had already stood down from his job pending Friday’s meeting.

His proposal to appoint Patrick Buisson as interim president was rejected after a vote by French clubs on Thursday.

On Tuesday Laporte was released without charge after being detained earlier in the day as part of an investigation into an unrelated alleged tax fraud.