REPORTING. In Rouen, years after the Lubrizol fire, the residents of the factory do not manage to forget and watch for “black clouds”
In the middle of a dilapidated car park, surrounded by the expressway which links the two banks of Rouen (Seine-Maritime), stand a dozen caravans. Vanessa Moreira-Fernandes and his family have lived here for almost fifteen years. Around them stand the chimneys of the factories of the industrial zone of the city. A the horizon, we can first distinguish that of Total, then that of Lubrizol. “Every day, when I get out of the caravan, I look up to see if there is a black cloud”, sighs Vanessa Moreira-Fernandes.
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On September 26, 2019, they were among the first to see the huge flames emanating from the lubricants company. Before their eyes, the sky turned red. As early in the morning, explosions released a gigantic cloud of black smoke, which covered the city before being blown away by the winds. That day, nearly 9,500 tonnes of chemicals went up in smoke, leaving a pungent, foul odor in their wake. The roof of the factory, made of fiber cement sheets containing asbestos, was destroyed.
Two years later, the fire continues to haunt Vanessa Moreira-Fernandes. The smell of hydrocarbons to understand more than one interior of his trailer. For the first few months after the fire, she, her husband and their five children had sore throats and dizziness.
“We have had many testimonials from people who have respiratory problems since September 26, 2019 and everyone is telling them that it is not related to Lubrizol.”Simon de Carvalho, president of the Lubrizol disaster association
The associations deplore that no census of people exposed to the cloud has been made. It would have made it possible to track down the appearance of possible cancers or congenital malformations in the long term. “We accepted this request to set up a health register, abounds Nicolas Mayer-Rossignol, president of the Rouen Normandy metropolis and mayor of the city since 2020. But nothing was done and today is too late. ”
Was this black cloud which covered Rouen toxic? The question obsesses Pierre-Emmanuel Brunet, president of Rouen Respire. A few meters from the factories, the quays of the Seine have regained their tranquility, the terraces are full and the joggers have resumed their course in the shade of the trees which barely hide the factories. I watch the scene. “You know it’s not the best place to run? We’re next to a dangerous factory”, joke, by addressing a runner, the founder of the first association of residents born after the fire.
On September 26, 2019, he remembers seeing the cloud pass “a few meters” above his head from the terrace of his apartment located less than a kilometer from Lubrizol’s headquarters. “We saw the particles floating in the air and an unbearable smell emanated from them.“ That morning at 7:30 am, he organized a convoy to allow his neighbors to leave the premises. “We didn’t know where to go, we just wanted to run away from the cloud, so we went against its direction”, he explains. A third of the 44 families in the building take the road to Deauville (Calvados), just under 100 km away. They won’t come back until two days later.
“We cannot forget what happened. Two years later, we are still facing the same industrial risks and I have the impression that people are resigning themselves, I will not succeed.”Pierre-Emmanuel Brunet, president of Rouen Respire
Association of threads tovery quickly brought together nearly 1,600 people. But Dthem years after the fire, the mobilization weakened: they are only twenty among them to have lodged a complaint against Lubrizol. Due to lack of resources, the group a due to separate from his lawyer, the very media Corinne Lepage. “Nobody helps us, we finance ourselves as best we can. We will fight for as long as it takes. We know it’s a long-term battle “, he assures.
In the square of the last fighters, there is also Simon by Carvalho, of the Association des sinistrés de Lubrizol (ASL), created shortly after Rouen Respire. His downtown apartment has become the headquarters of his association. A photographer friend joins him and the two men sit down, in the middle of leaflets intended to be distributed for the two years of the fire. The conversation crystallizes around the analyzes of the University of Rouen. They gave him samples of the magma that flooded the Lubrizol soils after the fire was extinguished. A blackish liquid collected on site and properly enclosed in small containers.
“With that, we will finally know what the substances that went into smoke were”, hopes Simon de Carvalho. But researchers do not share the same optimism. “The combustion has mixed the molecules of the products, explains to franceinfo Carlos Afonso, from the University of Rouen. We know that the products are toxic, but the residents were exposed to them for a short time, so the effects cannot be seen. “
Vanessa Moreira-Fernandes, she prefers not to hear about these analyzes. “It scares me … When I tell myself that we inhaled all these products, she confides. We are already very traumatized. ” At each sound that evokes the sound of explosions, the passage of sirens from the firefighters or the sight of smoke escaping from the chimneys, her children give a start. “We take the time to reassure them. For them, we try to act as if it was nothing.”
Today, all the family wants is to leave the place. “Before, I didn’t even pay attention to factories, but now they disgust me, she explains, lowering her head. Since the fire, on know that it is not normal to live here. How dangerous. We don’t want to take new risks “.
So the Rouennaise fights: by speaking to the press, by telling this night of horror to a parliamentary committee or by writing to the elected representatives of the metropolis. “Before the accident, I was not aware of the existence of this area”, the president of the metropolis confessed to him. After nearly two years of mobilization, Vanessa Moreira-Fernandes has secured the promise of relocation for her and the Travelers who remain on the site. Nicolas Mayer-Rossignol ensures that in 18 months a new land will be offered to them, before a relocation to come in a few years.
“We were promised homes for those who want them.”Vanessa Moreira-Fernandes
“Even though I can’t take this place anymore, I will stay here. I’m afraid that we will leave and that we will be forgotten, otherwise “, says Vanessa Moreira-Fernandes, sitting in front of her trailer. DOn the other side of its barbed wire walls, Lubrizol plans to turn the 10,000 square meters of burnt land into green spaces for employees and ensures that “no more stock of products will be processed on the site”, says to franceinfo Isabelle Striga, who chairs the company in France.
The firm is also committed, alongside 14 other industrialists from Rouen, to form the “Upside-Buckles of Rouen” platform., “to strengthen industrial security”. “We pool our resources to manage industrial risks, we organize exercises, mutual assistance”, describes Isabelle Strige.
From the outside, the chimneys that continue to spew steam don’t give Vanessa Moreira-Fernandes the impression that anything has changed. “Next time, if disaster strikes, I hope we’re not here anymore.”