American CEO faces French lawmakers over chemical plant

Eric Schnur, the chief executive of Lubrizol. Photo credit: sbonline

The American head of a chemicals company whose plant in northern France was ravaged by a huge fire last month, spewing a noxious black cloud for miles around, will face two parliamentary commissions on Tuesday seeking answers on the site's security.

Eric Schnur, the chief executive of Lubrizol, will appear before Senate and National Assembly commissions as the company begins the delicate task of removing around 160 damaged barrels of chemicals from the site.

The blaze at the plant in Rouen on September 26 sent billowing clouds of soot as far as 22 kilometres (14 miles) away, prompting evacuations and school closures over potential health risks.

Officials have insisted they will be completely forthcoming on the results of air, soil and water analyses, saying that so far that only limited contaminations have been detected despite the acrid fumes that deposited oily soot across the region.

But the government banned the harvesting of crops or the sale of animal products from a wide swathe of tainted countryside, a measure that was fully lifted only last Friday.

In total, officials said 5,253 tonnes of chemicals burned at the site, and an additional 4,250 tonnes at a neighbouring storage facility.

Lubrizol, a maker of industrial lubricants and fuel additives owned by the US billionaire Warren Buffett, has not publically identified the products that burned, and the cause of the fire has not yet been determined.

Many residents have lambasted officials for the pollution and security risks of allowing the installation of a factory producing toxic chemicals just a few kilometres from the city centre of Rouen, a city of some 100,000 people.

Anger also remains rife over the government's perceived failure to communicate the full risks of the smoke and soot.

Schnur has promised to help compensate farmers for their losses, which agriculture minister Didier Guillaume estimated at 40 to 50 million euros ($44-55 million) earlier this month.

In total, about 3,000 agricultural producers were affected by the blaze, Guillaume said.

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