What we know about the impressive fire in disused buildings in Rouen, which raises fears of asbestos pollution

Analyzes were underway on Sunday to find out if the fire, which destroyed two buildings containing asbestos, could have spread this dangerous component.

A disaster and concerns. After the fire which ravaged two disused buildings in Rouen (Seine-Maritime) on the night of Saturday September 30 to Sunday October 1, analyzes are underway in the surrounding area, declared Fatima El-Khili, deputy mayor of the city. “The objective is to research the level of asbestos fibers in soot and debris [de l’incendie] she explained on Sunday at the microphone of France 2.

Four years after the fire at the Lubrizol factory, during which 10,000 tonnes of chemicals went up in smoke on the outskirts of Rouen, the city’s residents once again fear for their health and their environment. Franceinfo takes stock of this double fire, the causes of which remain unknown.

Two buildings completely destroyed

After breaking out around 6 p.m. on Saturday, the fire caused the collapse of both structures. The steel, subjected to the high heat, softens, and the collapse of the building is inevitable. “, explained to France 2 during the disaster Thomy Chauvel, commander of Sdis rescue operations (Departmental Fire and Rescue Service) 76. The burned site belongs to the social landlord Rouen Habitat and, according to the city of Rouen, these buildings were disused and no longer accommodated residents since 2018, due to “fire risk”Franceinfo learned.

France 2

These two buildings in the south of the city had therefore been abandoned since 2018 and earmarked for demolition. Squatters frequently took up residence there, France 2 learned, but no victims of this blaze have been reported. As of Sunday midday, the fire had been contained and brought under control by firefighters, but not completely extinguished, according to the municipality.

Asbestos in structures

The construction of these buildings dates back to the 1970s. They were made of glass and steel, but also contained asbestos. As the National Institute for Research and Safety (INRS) points out on its site, asbestos is an insulator that has “been massively used” in construction, before being banned in France in 1997. But “it remains present in many buildings and equipment”warns INRS, which adds that these micro fibers “can settle deep in the lungs and cause serious respiratory illnesses”including cancers.

Asbestos would thus be responsible for the deaths of 70,000 to 100,000 people between 2009 and 2050; and causes between 150 and 170 laryngeal and ovarian cancers each year.

The authorities and the population therefore fear that the flames and the collapse of the buildings could have scattered asbestos fibers in the surrounding area.

No dangerous threshold has been crossed immediately

The firefighters carried out smoke toxicity measurements and ” no dangerous threshold has been identified”, assured the town hall to AFP. The municipality also promised that residents bothered by odors or smoke would all be relocated. “We are not in the context of a fire like [celui de] Lubrizol, where there was a chemical risk, we are of course at a risk of asbestos fiber, it is not the same level of danger”underlined Fatima El Khili.

Analysis returns expected within two to three days

While investigations continue to identify the causes of the fire, analyzes are underway in a perimeter established around the scene of the disaster. This zone concerns districts in the south of Rouen and the neighboring commune of Petit-Quevilly (Seine-Maritime). “The precautionary principle prevails”Deputy Fatima El Khili told AFP, while schools are located in this area.

“All schools and nurseries in this area are checked by our teams to check that there is no debris in and around the courtyards, our teams will clean up if this is the case”, she added. A nursery and elementary school, that of Pépinières Saint-Julien, will remain closed until Tuesday. The results of the analysis of the samples should be known “Tuesday evening or Wednesday”, the municipality said.

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