’Our children in danger after chemical blaze’

Residents in the French city of Rouen have been protesting against what they say is a cover up following a massive fire at a chemical storage facility.

Huge clouds of black smoke spewed into the air across north-western France as more than 5,000 tonnes of chemicals and oil burned at the site last week.

Authorities say tests carried out after the blaze at the Lubrizol plant indicated that the smoke was not toxic.

But environmental activists and unions accuse officials of “hiding the truth”.

On Tuesday, several schools were closed after children said they felt nauseous and complained of sore throats and eyes, local media reported.

Later, hundreds of people marched through Rouen carrying placards that read “our children are in danger”; “assurances for pupils” and “it’s up to us to investigate”.

The march, organised by unions and activists, called on authorities to fully investigate the incident at the plant and to share the findings relating to any possible impacts on public health.

The plant belongs to Lubrizol, a US chemical manufacturer owned by billionaire investor Warren Buffett.

In a statement days after the blaze, Lubrizol said that CCTV footage and eyewitness accounts had suggested that the fire started outside the factory grounds.

“The origin of the fire [appears to be] external to Lubrizol and the fire unfortunately spread on to our site,” the company said, adding that it was fully co-operating with the police.

Police have yet to confirm the cause of the fire.

On Thursday September 26, a fire took hold of a chemical storage facility in Rouen, a port city on the river Seine – one of France’s biggest rivers – that has a population of more than 110,000.

The incident caused widespread panic and several surrounding towns advised residents to remain indoors.

According to local officials, the fire released mostly natural and organic substances such as hydrocarbons and mercaptan, a colourless additive to natural gas that has a pungent smell – a bit like rotten cabbages.

Most of the particles released into the air were “quickly deposited on the ground in the form of soot”, local authorities said, citing tests carried out to determine the presence of poisonous substances such as carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide and hydrogen sulphide.

However, other concerns were raised, such as the collapse of the factory roof, which contained asbestos. -BBC

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