printing this issue of the Root-Off for your reference)
Kim Williams for contributing this article!The
November/December ROOT OFF!
"Please read this article carefully...
This news story is actually so big that it could only
be overshadowed by a news story as big as a war story...
29 dead (28 died at Flixborough), 10 missing, 2,500 injured, 800 hospitalized,
many (I heard an estimate of 50) of whom will die from their injuries...
20,000 homes, apartments and offices damaged, three hospitals,
schools, a university campus and a soccer stadium are unusable.
The explosion registered 3.4 on the Richter Scale.
This disaster is on a catastrophic scale..."
York Times September 25, 2001
Search for Cause of Chemical Plant Explosion
France, Sept. 24 — Acrid smoke still rose today from the wreckage of
one of France's largest petrochemical plants, reduced to a skeleton of
giant steel girders bent like twigs in a huge explosion last Friday that
wreaked environmental damage and even stirred fears among residents that
they, too, were victims of terrorism.
Local and national officials from President Jacques Chirac on
down have tried their best to quash such fears. Tonight, as fire
fighters officially abandoned the search for any survivors in the
debris, Toulouse's prosecutor, Michel Bréard, insisted that
"technical details" indicated that it was "99 percent
certain that it was an accident."
He added that there was no evidence as to what caused the
catastrophe but hinted it might have resulted from a lack of care.
"The risk of an explosion was not considered important by the
prosecutor of France's fourth largest city, has ordered a judicial
inquiry into the disaster on Friday. The blast left 29 people dead, at
least 10 missing, and injured more than 2,500 as it damaged buildings as
far as three miles away and spewed acid clouds into the air. Close to
800 remain hospitalized, some of whom may yet die from burns or internal
Douste-Blazy, Toulouse's mayor, stood today on a street in Mirail, a
shattered neighborhood where every family was shoveling broken glass and
torn roof panels, and said some 20,000 homes, apartments and offices had
been damaged. Three hospitals, more than 60 schools, a university campus
for 25,000 students and a soccer stadium are unusable, "closed
until further notice," he said. He appealed for help from the army
to join in the cleanup and prevent pillaging.
The mayor is among the many vocal Toulouse residents who now
wonder how the petrochemical plant, classified as "high risk,"
came to be so close to the edge of a city of one million people.
inspectors announced today that most of the ammonia and other gases
thrown into the air had dispersed but warned nearby towns and villages
not to drink tap water because the plant had contaminated the nearby
Garonne River. The scale of the damage — like the cause of the
explosion itself — will probably take weeks if not months to
determine, city officials said.
ruined plant on Sunday, smoke still curled above the wreckage. "We
have to take a break," said David Fabries, pulling away his pair of
search dogs. "My dogs and I are getting overwhelmed by the
and workers at the plant, meanwhile, still talk of a terrorist act or
foul play rather than a lapse in their own security as the likely cause
of the blast. Like much of the rest of the world, the residents of
Toulouse are jittery after the terror attacks on the United States on
Sept. 11. "There was a first noise and then a few seconds later a
huge explosion," said Marcel Berson, who lives near the plant.
"It blew me across the yard against the wall," he said,
showing cuts on his head and his arms. "I couldn't breathe. My wife
started screaming, it's a plane, it's a plane. She had been watching on
TV what happened in America."
chemical works, on a 40- acre site flanking the Garonne River, is
France's largest manufacturer of fertilizers, along with other products.
Built in 1924, it was later modernized and bought by the oil and
chemical conglomerate Total-Fina-Elf. It employs 470 workers, and when
the explosion occurred shortly after 10 a.m. last Friday, the working
day had just begun.
at a makeshift funeral parlor on Sunday, workers and their families bade
farewell to 22 colleagues who were killed. Large men sat silent in tight
circles, their faces blank. Jean
Thomas, a worker with 26 years at the plant, said he and his workmates
had gone over the disaster a hundred times without coming up with an
answer. "We've been around ammonium nitrate for years. Believe me,
it does not just blow up. You have to set it on fire."
investigators, the epicenter of the disaster is a 150-foot-wide crater,
now filling with water, once a warehouse holding the 300-ton stock of
fertilizer. When it blew up, the explosion caused earth tremors
measuring a magnitude of 3.4 on the standard seismic scale.
nitrate is the kind of fertilizer that farmers regularly keep stocked in
nylon bags. Experts here said that even a very large stock of ammonium
nitrate is not a problem as long as it is kept dry and cool. If it gets
humid it can heat up and ferment, leading to spontaneous combustion.
chemists also explained that fertilizer, while commonly available as
plant food, can also serve as an explosive. For the fertilizer stocks to
explode in the Toulouse warehouse, experts here said, some kind of fuel
and a source of sudden intense heat would probably have been needed as a
detonator. "There was no pump, no heat source in that
building," said Michel Barret, one of the chiefs of maintenance.
"With all the measures we take here, it cannot be an accident. To
me this was a deliberate act."
of AZF said the site was subject to rigid controls and inspections. The
last inspection in May this year reportedly had found no abnormalities.
Dufetelle, a physician and deputy mayor of Toulouse in charge of
environmental affairs, said a new site for the chemical works had been
found several years ago. But the management and the workers trade union
had repeatedly argued that a move would be too expensive and might lead
to the closing down of the plant. Moreover, he said, the AZF plant is
interlinked with two neighboring industrial complexes and a gunpowder
plant, making a move not only costly but highly unlikely.
regional government, officials said no new decisions about the plant
would be likely until the causes of the disaster were known. In the
meantime, long processions of trucks have been clearing the site,
hauling away the remaining chemicals for storage elsewhere.
of Toulouse is still looking over its shoulder. Special security
measures have been taken at Toulouse's large industrial park several
miles from the plant, headquarters of some of France's top companies
including Airbus Industries, the aircraft manufacturer, and a branch of
the European Space Agency. The
events of Sept. 11 had already cast a different light on some other
recent incidents. Police investigators said that since the attack in
America they had renewed their inquiry into a recent robbery of 18
canisters of bottled gas from a local vendor, but that they so far had
turned up no link to either suspected terrorists or the disaster at the