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The industrial fire at the Lubrizol plant: the ANSES Opinions

Updated on 08/01/2020

Keywords : Lubrizol, Nutrition, Water

The large plume of smoke produced by the fire at the Lubrizol plant in Rouen, France on 26 September affected several French départements. The authorities rapidly commissioned measurements and sampling in order to assess the impact of any hazardous substances that may have been emitted.

This context led to ANSES being asked to assess the potential food risks associated with the deposition on the ground. The first step involved ensuring that the initial surveillance and sampling measures taken were adequate with regard to agricultural and food production.

To supplement the emergency strategy implemented, a request was also made jointly to ANSES and INERIS, with a view to identifying the main substances liable to have health effects through the different routes of exposure. ANSES's contribution complemented the work of INERIS, the reference body for industrial risks, which drew up a list of substances that may have been released into the environment during this industrial accident, and of the areas that have been exposed to these substances.

ANSES opinion on the assessment of food risks associated with the industrial fire at the Lubrizol plant

Regarding the food risks, ANSES concludes that the first-line substances screened for (dioxins and furans, PCBs, PAHs and trace metal elements) in agricultural and food products are relevant. It proposes extending the list of substances to other trace metal elements, phthalates and the flame retardants used by firefighters when extinguishing the fire. ANSES also drew up a list of substances to be screened for and measured in livestock feed.

In addition, the Agency recommends taking soil samples for long-term livestock management, especially for animals grazing or pecking the ground in the open air, and determining more precisely the area affected by significant deposition.

More generally, ANSES made recommendations designed to optimise the surveillance and sampling plans put in place and ensure that they are adjusted to take account of the time elapsed since the event, in terms of both the completeness of the information sought, and the methods used for collecting and documenting samples in order to facilitate subsequent data exploitation and interpretation.

ANSES's expert appraisal of tested milk samples following the fire at the Lubrizol plant

Following the fire at the Lubrizol plant, animal products such as milk, eggs and honey, as well as plant products, were impounded in many municipalities where soot had been observed (Seine-Maritime, Oise, Nord, Somme and Aisne). As part of its expert appraisal on the potential food risks from the deposition resulting from the plume of smoke, on 11 October ANSES received an urgent request to provide scientific evidence on the possibilities and conditions for lifting the ban on milk collection.

In total, ANSES examined the results of 130 milk samples (milk, raw milk, whole milk, tank milk mixtures, mainly from cows and partly from goats) taken over a period between three and eleven days after the fire, from 29 September to 7 October 2019.

The contaminants urgently defined and prioritised for screening during this first phase of sampling were dioxins and furans, PCBs, PAHs and trace metals (lead, cadmium, mercury). As these contaminants can potentially be found in the environment, maximum regulatory levels to protect consumer health have already been established for food. In order to analyse the measured contamination levels, ANSES made several comparisons, in particular with contamination values obtained by surveillance and control plans at national level.

ANSES's expert appraisal on the monitoring of drinking water following the fire at the Lubrizol plant

On 26 September 2019, the Normandy Regional Health Agency (ARS) introduced reinforced monitoring of drinking water quality. Priority was given to above-ground drinking water reservoirs located under the smoke plume and near the pollution source, followed by groundwater abstraction points used to produce drinking water, located under and near the plume. These were selected on the basis of their vulnerability to surface pollution. The initial analyses covered a wide range of chemical compounds liable to be found in runoff water.

Sixty-six groundwater abstraction points were identified in the 112 municipalities concerned by the prefectural order of 28 September 2019 on food marketing restrictions for the area affected by the deposition of smoke soot from the fire. These groundwater abstraction points were classified according to their vulnerability to the risks of rapid surface-water infiltration in the event of heavy rainfall.

On the basis of their assessment of the sampling strategy implemented by the Normandy ARS from 26 September, the experts of the Emergency Collective Expert Appraisal Group convened by ANSES proposed a comprehensive surveillance programme that can be adjusted over time according to the results obtained.

ANSES's opinion on the food risks following the fire at the Lubrizol plant

In the days following the fire, animals may have been exposed to soot from the fire, by smoke inhalation and direct deposition of smoke particles on the mucous membranes of the lungs, as well as by consumption of contaminated food, particularly grass from pastures or silage that was poorly or only partly covered and on which pollutants were deposited.

With regard to plant products, any found contaminated by soot deposition were declared unfit for consumption and destroyed. Nevertheless, some production may have been contaminated by particles that were not visible.

The samples taken following the fire relate to animal products such as milk, eggs, honey and farmed fish, as well as plant products including leafy vegetables (salads, endives), root vegetables (potatoes, beets, tubers) and fruit, and livestock feed such as silage maize, hay and pasture grasses. The contaminants screened for were dioxins and furans, PCBs, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and trace metal elements (cadmium, lead and mercury).

Lubrizol: ANSES's recommendations for establishing long-term surveillance of foodstuffs

Following the fire at the Lubrizol plant, the authorities established two management phases to control the risks of exposure via food. In the first phase, samples were taken to identify contaminants likely to have come from the fire in foodstuffs under the path of the smoke plume, and to measure their levels. This covered both human food and animal feed. The opinions subsequently formulated by ANSES on the basis of the analyses received did not find any contamination levels that could lead to increased risks of dietary exposure in the short term.

ANSES's expert appraisal on the monitoring of drinking water in Hauts-de-France following the fire at the Lubrizol plant

As part of its expert appraisal on the potential health risks associated with contamination from the particles deposited by the fire at the Lubrizol plant, ANSES is today publishing its opinion on the monitoring of drinking water in the Hauts-de-France region.

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