Report is Highly Critical of Chemical Safety in France

A parliamentary report released in France yesterday takes a dim view of chemical safety in that country, claiming that risks in that industry are "poorly assessed."

A parliamentary report released in France yesterday takes a dim view of chemical safety in that country. The report is part of the investigation into a September 2001 explosion at a chemical facility in Toulouse that killed 30 people, injured nearly 3,000, and caused nearly $2 billion in damage.

The report examined 1,239 chemical plants in France and noted that in a number of cases, "the risks are poorly assessed largely due to the lack of reliable studies on the likely dangers." It suggests that the French chemical industry take a page out of the nuclear industry''s safety handbook and enact stricter safety policies and procedures.

The report recommends a number of changes, among them:

  • Establishing more and better inspection systems.
  • Requiring stricter controls on the use of subcontractors.
  • Limiting the quantities of hazardous chemicals stored on site.
  • Regulating residential growth surrounding chemical facilities.
  • Changing the structure of health and safety committees to provide a better assessment of risk.

The disaster at the Toulouse facility, operated by TotalFinaElf, a French-Belgian oil conglomerate, was caused when ammonium nitrate stocks exploded. A 1990 risk assessment of the facility dismissed the danger of such an explosion.

TotalFinaElf announced last week that it has set aside some $500 million to cover potential claims from victims, but so far, claims against the company total three times that amount.

The investigation into the cause of the explosion continues.

by Sandy Smith ([email protected])

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