Death toll in Atofina Toulouse explosion reaches 30

24 September 2001 11:27  [Source: ICIS news]

LONDON (CNI)--The number of people killed as a result of Friday's explosion at Atofina's fertiliser subsidiary Grande Paroisse in Toulouse, southwest France has reached 30 and may climb even higher, a spokesman for Atofina's parent, TotalFinaElf, said Monday.

The blast, which occurred at about 10:15 hours local time (08:15 GMT) in southwest Toulouse, is believed to have originated in a store of ammonium nitrate. One building, which stored 300 tonne of ammonium nitrate granules, was completely destroyed, said the spokesman.

Ten of Grande Paroisse's 460 Toulouse-based employees were killed, he said. Seven of the dead were outside the site and another 13 were visitors or contractors at the site. More than 1000 were injured, and some 700 remain hospitalised.

The blast, which left a 50 metre diameter crater, caused damage to the surrounding area including the nearby Raisio alkyl ketene dimer (AKD) plant and the Societe Nationale des Poudres et Explosifs (SNPE) explosives facility.

Atofina personnel are meeting today to discuss the future of the Grande Paroisse plant, said the TotalFinaElf spokesman. The plant has the capacity to produce approximately 315 000 tonne/year of ammonia, 320 000 tonne of urea and 185 000 tonne/year of ammonium nitrate. Grande Paroisse markets the fertilisers under the brand name AZF.

The French government has launched an investigation into the explosion, and environmental groups and local residents are calling for the regulations relating to "high risk" facilities to be tightened. Yannick Vicaire of Greenpeace France said: "We claim to manage the risks involved in this type of production of dangerous substances but events prove that we are never sheltered from an accident."

A French government spokesman explained that French laws covering major industrial risks are covered by the European Union (EU) Seveso 2 directive, and application of the law is the responsibility of the regional prefecture. Nobody from the prefecture was available to speak to CNI.

By: Joanna Kesteven
+44 208 652 3214

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