Lubrizol: oil obscures the transparency

While there were no immediate victims, the Lubrizol plant accident, only three kilometres from Rouen city centre – the worse accident in France since the 2001 AZF explosion in Toulouse – shows the lack of concern of industry owners and government about risk management. Meanwhile, Macron talks big at the United Nations instead of constraining the capitalists who destroy the planet.

Setup since 1954 in Rouen’s urban area, odours and light emitted by the Lubrizol plant have inconvenienced the residents daily. Belonging to American billionaire Warren Buffet, this company specialising in making additives has been classified as “high threshold” Seveso area since 2009, like half of the 25 industrial sites in the urban area. There are 1,312 Seveso areas in France today, including 705 at a high threshold.

Several explosions were followed by a gigantic fire, spreading a black smoke full of toxic chemicals such as benzene, phosphorus pentasulfide and nitrogen oxide. People several kilometres away from the accident quickly had itchy nose and throat. With the morning rain, dozens of towns were covered with a layer of soot and oil, dirtying cultures and homes. Cakes of oil were floating in the Seine river and hydrocarbon residues were even found in Lille…

A long history of polluting

The chairman of Lubrizol France minimised his responsibility: “I am very surprised to see a fire start this way […]” In 2013, mercaptan, a toxic gas, leaked from this same site and was felt around Paris and even in England! Lack of maintenance and monitoring was pointed out. The company, which has a yearly income of €6 billion, was fined €4,000.

The same company was accused in 2015 of having discharged thousands of litres of oil into the rain water evacuation network.

 “Move along, there’s nothing to see here”

Despite all this, the government does nothing and cuts down on measures to force polluters to clean down their act, with little regard for workers and residents. Out of the 2,100 formal notices against industrialists, only 20% lead to administrative penalties, often nominal. At the same time, inspections have been reduced by a third in the last 12 years, due to job cuts in the public sector.

About the Lubrizol site, the regional environment, planning and housing agency of Normandy estimated in all seriousness that the probability of a fire was “no greater than once every 10,000 years”! In turn, the interior minister, Christophe Castaner, dared to state that there was no health risk to the population, at the same time as Rouen police wore protective masks!

Against the scarcity of information, resident associations, unions and left-wing parties called for a demonstration on October 1st to ask for more transparency.

Make small gestures or expropriate the exploiters?

The same week, Emmanuel Macron at the UN general assembly and the summit on “climate emergency” posed as an environment “champion,” while being so indecent as to lecture the young Greta Thunberg. But she was absolutely right to criticise “the inaction of politicians” and to say: “How dare you? You stole my dreams and my childhood with your empty words.”

The Lubrizol accident, far from all these empty words, reveals the social and environmental effects of capitalist production based on exploitation, understaffing and lack of maintenance to maximise profits. Rather than the harmless “little gestures” preferred by politicians, we need production to be under worker control and we need to expropriate the capitalists to avoid more of these disasters.