Unpleasant fumes from Rouen factory fire 'not harmful', says French PM Philippe

Lou Benoist, AFP | Prime Minister Edouard Philippe speaks to journalists at the Lubrizol chemical factory in Rouen, Normandy, on September 30, 2019 after it was ravaged by a massive fire.

Four days after the Lubrizol factory fire in Rouen, Prime Minister Édouard Philippe sought to calm residents and farmers, assuring them that air quality was not at risk.


The French prime minister conceded Monday evening that the odours provoked by the chemical plant fire were “unpleasant” but “not harmful”.

“The odours we’re experiencing … are indeed very bothersome, very nasty to bear … but they are not harmful,” he said in a visit to the site. Philippe insisted on the government’s willingness to maintain “absolute transparency” on the causes and effects of the accident.

The prime minister reiterated that the fumes from the fire did not pose a health hazard.

“That’s what the scientists are telling, that’s what the technicians are telling me, and I have a habit of listening to scientists and technicians when it comes to security and managing risks,” said Philippe. He is the fifth government official to visit the site.

'Result of analyses still need to be delivered'

Asked about teachers’ decision to cancel classes at several middle schools, Philippe said he “completely understood” the difficulties of teaching when a number of students were bothered by the smell. “If (the teachers) consider that it’s the right step to take, I hear their concern.”

The city of Rouen stated earlier in the day that water throughout the area was safe to drink, after images of black or grey tap water circulated widely on social media.

“No trace of contamination has been detected,” the mayor’s office said in a statement.

Origin of fire 'external to Lubrizol'

Philippe’s visit came as Lubrizol, the lubricant company operating the plant, filed a court complaint for “involuntary destruction”, saying Monday that the origin of the fire was “external” to the plant.

“Video surveillance and visual witnesses indicate that the fire was first observed and reported outside of the Lubrizol site in Rouen, which suggests that the origin of the fire is external to Lubrizol and that the fire unfortunately spread to our site,” the group said in a press release.

The prime minister said for his part that he had “no information to indicate which hypothesis is right or wrong”.

'We want to be sure that our products are safe'

In neighbouring departments, officials are continuing to take precautions. In Oise, east of Rouen, Prefect Louis Le Franc announced that samples of agricultural products, including dairy, would be collected in forty municipalities where soot from the fire has been detected.

“Farmers are worried,” Le Franc said. “The priority is to take samples to remove any doubt. There could be heavy metals, dioxides, lead, so the precautionary principle is being applied to the fullest.” The prefect said the first results would be available in “about a week”.

“We want to be sure that our products are safe,” said Régis Desrumaux, secretary general of the FDSEA farmers’ union in Oise. “But we above all want to make sure that the agricultural world is not forgotten and that we’re properly indemnified if we destroy our products.”

Farmers in northern France have already been forced to discard thousands of litres of milk over fears that they could be contaminated. On Sunday, officials in the Hauts-de-France region, which includes Oise and four other departments, banned the sale of animal products from 94 municipalities “as a precautionary measure” until they could be guaranteed safe.

Speaking alongside Prime Minister Philippe Monday, Agriculture Minister Didier Guillaume said farmers would be “totally” compensated for any losses in revenue owing to the fire.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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