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Explosion at Dordogne chemical factory: low pollution risk for locals

Authorities responding at the Bergerac site have said that there was greater risk ‘in the explosion itself than the pollution it could create’

An explosion at a Bergerac factory led to a fire yesterday afternoon (August 3), but the pollution risk is not judged to be particularly high for local people. Photo for illustration only Pic: COLOA Studio / Shutterstock

[Article updated on August 4 at 11:40 with details of another Seveso factory fire in Bas-Rhin.]

An explosion and fire at an old powder mill classed as a high-level Seveso site in Bergerac (Dordogne) yesterday should not pose a danger to the surrounding area, authorities have said. 

Seveso sites are ones identified as having a level of risk due to the use of dangerous chemicals. 

The explosion happened yesterday afternoon (August 3) at the Manuco factory, which is located on the Eurenco group site and produces nitrocellulose, a substance used in the manufacturing of military and hunting weapons, as well as dynamite. 

It injured eight members of staff, one of whom seriously. This worker was evacuated from the scene by helicopter and taken to Bordeaux. 

Some 61 firefighters, 20 police officers and two SAMU helicopters helped to move all employees away from the factory.

The fumes released by the fire are not particularly dangerous for human, animal or environmental health, the authorities confirmed in the evening. 

Christian Sommade, the leader of the Résilience France think tank, has since stated that the explosion “should not have too much of an impact on the site’s surroundings. 

“We need to know all the products which are present in the factory, but in general those used in powder mills are less toxic than those used in chlorine or ammonia plants.

“The risk is more linked to the explosion in itself than to the pollution which it could create, which is not the same as that released at the Lubrizol factory, Rouen in 2019 for example.”

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Nevertheless, an “extremely large” area has been shut off to the public, in case further explosions occur. “It could have been a lot worse,” Dordogne’s sub-prefect has said, adding that the building where the explosion took place contained less than a tonne of nitrocellulose.

The fire resulting from the blast has been brought under control. 

Manuco’s Seveso rating is related to an EU directive which applies to more than 12,000 factories across the bloc, where dangerous substances are used.

The factory is classed as a high-level Seveso site because of the risk of fire and of toxic smoke from the “handling of explosive and acid products”, the prefecture has said.

Mr Sommade said: “All high-level Seveso sites are subject to quite strict legislation in terms of storage, and powder mills even more so. 

“There is notably a policy requiring the separation of [different] substances, which must be respected. 

“Normally, when this legislation is respected, accidents are prevented.” 

An investigation into the event has been opened to determine the cause of the accident. “If there are any technical failures or errors, we must resolve them,” the sub-prefect said.

Another fire at Bas-Rhin Seveso site 

As firefighters tackled the blaze at the Manuco factory in Dordogne, another fire began overnight at the Safran factory in Molsheim (Bas-Rhin). This site is also a high level Seveso factory, as it stores chemical products. 

No one was hurt by the fire and there have so far been no traces of pollution resulting from the flames. 

One witness said that they saw "an enormous fire ball coming from the building's roof" at around 00:30, although they did not hear an explosion.

Some 94 firefighters and 45 vehicles were mobilised, and managed to bring the fire under control within two hours.

The area is currently shut off to the public.

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