Conflict and confusion in France over chemical plant fire

Effects could be felt all the way across the Channel in Southern England.

On Thursday 26, a fire broke out in a chemical plant in Rouen, Normandy. The result was a huge cloud of black smoke, which could be seen over the city for several days, as the important fire was difficult to extinguish.

The cloud deposited black soot all over the city and surrounding areas, including many fields. A foul smell reigns over the area and people have complained about it all the way from the other side of the Channel, in Southern England.

Schools were shut on the day of the fire and the next day, and many people were confined to their homes in order to limit exposure to the black soot and pollution.

The Head Representative of the region of Normandy tried to reassure the population on Friday 27, stating that everyone could go back to living and working as normal.

Minister of Health Buzyn has also stated that, while she admits that the city is polluted, analyses had shown that there were no health risks and that the quality of the air was normal.

However, this has failed to fully reassure, as farms in the area are still being told not to gather any crops or to feed cattle. This has caused confusion about whether there were health risks for locals, and if so, of what kind.

Adding to the concerns is the lack of understanding as to what the causes of the fire were. Lubrizol, the company that owns the chemical plant has indeed stated that they were not responsible and that the cause was external.

People have reported coughing, itching and nausea, attributed to the smoke.

The confusion caused by the lack of effective communication, as well as the panic over the black soot, has created a perfect environment for fake news to spread. A fake government publication stating that there could be long-term health effects has been circulating online.

Dead fish were found near the Seine River, however some exaggerated this effect on animals, for example by sharing photos of dead birds that were actually taken in Louisiana, USA, in 2011.

A few hours ago, First Minister Philippe has announced that all studies on effects to public health were to be published online. Interviewed by reporters who asked why some locals had reported symptoms and were reluctant to trust him, he stressed that the soot “could be bothering, but is not harmful”.

Featured image credit: AFP

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