French fertiliser blast death toll rises to 15; 200 injured

21 September 2001 15:48  [Source: ICIS news]

LONDON (CNI)--The death toll in Friday's explosion at the Grande Paroisse fertiliser plant in Toulouse in southwest France has risen to 15, according to reports reaching the International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers' Unions (ICEM).

In a statement to CNI, the federation said 200 people were injured of whom about 80 are in a very serious condition. Some 460 people are employed at the plant, according to Grande Paroisse parent company Atofina, the chemicals arm of Franco-Belgian energy group TotalFinaElf.

Workers at the plant include members of the chemical unions Fedechimie CGT-FO and FCE-CFDT which are both affiliated to the ICEM.

The cause of the explosion is, so far, unknown although the ICEM said there was no reason to suppose that it was other than accidental.

The blast occurred at about 10:15 local time (08:15 GMT), according to both Atofina and ICEM.

It produced a cloud containing ammonia which was reported to be spreading across Toulouse.

Both Toulouse's mayor and French President Jacques Chirac asked the people of the city to remain indoors. The city's main railway station and airport were reported to have been closed and areas around the plant cordoned off. Motorways up to about 10 km (6.25 miles) from the blast scene were closed.

French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin and Chirac were reported to be on their way to the scene of the disaster.

The fertiliser plant has the capacity to produce around 315 000 tonne/year of ammonia, 320 000 tonne of urea and 185 000 tonne of ammonium nitrate.

It is understood that the plant has suffered extensive and major damage, with two buildings reported to have been destroyed. There were also indications that the blast may have damaged the nearby explosives facility of Societe Nationale des Poudres et Explosifs (SNPE). Earlier today, an SNPE spokesman told CNI that the explosion had affected its operations but was unable to give any further details.

By: Joanna Kesteven
+44 208 652 3214

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