On Thursday 26 September, a fire took hold of a chemical storage facility in Rouen, a port city on the river Seine – one of France’s biggest rivers – that has a population of more than 110,000.
The incident caused widespread panic and several surrounding towns advised residents to remain indoors.
According to local officials, the fire released mostly natural and organic substances such as hydrocarbons and mercaptan, a colourless additive to natural gas that has a pungent smell – a bit like rotten cabbages.
Most of the particles released into the air were “quickly deposited on the ground in the form of soot”, local authorities said, citing tests carried out to determine the presence of poisonous substances such as carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide and hydrogen sulphide.
However, other concerns were raised, such as the collapse of the factory roof, which contained asbestos.
The latest information provided by the official website of the Seine-Maritime prefecture states that any risk of distribution of asbestos particles or fibres was “limited by the rapid collapse of the roof” (in French).
Image Credit: SDIS76