An official investigation into the Sept. 26 fire at the Lubrizol chemical plant in Rouen, France, has been expanded by the Paris prosecutor’s office to include alleged operational irregularities at the plant and a neighboring chemical storage facility.
The action comes in the wake of a mid-December decision by local authorities in Rouen to permit the partial reopening of the Lubrizol plant with a drastic reduction in storage of packaged finished products and raw materials.
An association of Rouen residents known as “Rouen Respire” filed an appeal in administrative court Thursday (Jan. 9) to prevent that reopening.
The massive Lubrizol fire destroyed 5,253 tons of chemicals with another 4,250 tons burned at the adjoining Normandie Logistique storage facility.
In October, three magistrates from the public health section of the Paris court initiated an extensive judicial investigation of the fire with regard to “endangering the lives of others,” “involuntary injuries” and “involuntary destruction by fire.”
The additional indictment this month names the two companies involved, referring to the fire scene as “a network of gutters with insufficient containment to hold the volume of chemicals involved.” It also notes the absence of fire detection devices for outdoor chemical storage areas near the two buildings that burned.
Also charged is negligence in providing sufficient water resources to deal with a fire as large as the September disaster. Jean-Yves Lagalle, director of the Seine-Maritme fire brigade, testified in October that firefighters ran out of water in front of what he described as a huge caldron of fire.
Lubrizol CEO Eric Schnur, testifying before the French Senate and National Assembly commissions investigating the disaster, said in October that he has no doubt that flames spread to his company’s property from outside, indirectly implicating Normandie Logistique.
Security video from the night of the fire shows flames approaching the Lubrizol site from outside the property, Schnur said. Officials with Normandie Logistique, which also saw extensive damage to their facility, deny that the fire originated from there.
Lubrizol materials represent less than half of what burned in the fire at Normandie Logistique, Schnur said. None of the product that belonged to Lubrizol that burned in the fire posed a health threat other than the short-term irritation normally expected from smoke.
The French government subsequently lifted a ban that forbid farmers in the area perceived to have been affected from selling crops or animals.