“A rain of asbestos dust” fell during the September 2019 fire at the Lubrizol chemical plant in Rouen, France, putting firefighters who had direct contact at risk of lung cancer, the president of an environmental research association testified before French lawmakers.

Andre Picot of L’Association Toxicologie-Chimie (The Toxcicology-Chemistry Association) told a French Senate investigating committee that the roof of the plant consisted of cement and asbestos fibers. Those fibers would have been well dispersed by the fire, he said.

“Above all, the people in immediate contact, such as the firefighters, would have been affected,” Picot said.

The massive Lubrizol fire destroyed 5,253 tons of chemicals with another 4,250 tons burned at the adjoining Normandie Logistique storage facility.

Picot’s testimony stands in direct contradiction to government claims that no asbestos fibers were released by the fire.

He also said that French Minister of Health Agnes Buzyn was misinformed about the effects of asbestos exposure. Following the fire, Buzyn asked for blood tests to check firefighters for liver damage.

“One of the properties of asbestos is that it triggers cancers of the lungs,” Picot said. “Everyone knows that asbestos has no impact on the liver.”

As to what effect soot from the fire may have on the wider community, Picot said he was unable to speculate.

“At the moment, we are unable to know exactly the repercussions that this may have on the population,” he said.