At around 4:10 a.m., a fire broke out in a polystyrene waste collection and recycling centre. Processing at the site involved grinding and extrusion (for the production of recycled polystyrene granules). The fire involved a 1,000 m² hangar and a 300 m³ outdoor stockpile of bulk polystyrene. The two employees present at the time tried in vain to control the fire with fire extinguishers. They alerted the fire brigade and the site manager.
The fire produced a column of black smoke. Measurements revealed high levels of hydrocarbons in the air (degradation products created by the burning of expanded polystyrene). However, anticyclonic conditions and high temperatures allowed the smoke to rise rapidly into the atmosphere, limiting the exposure of the local population.
The electrical utility services disconnected a 20,000 V power line, depriving the entire village of power. This outage also led to the shutdown of a hydrocarbon pipeline for a few hours; The pipeline involved linked Marseille to Strasbourg, and thus resulted in delivery delays.
Firefighters were able to use water from a pond located 600 m away. As water was insufficient to extinguish the fire, they also used a foaming solution to smother the flames. The fire was finally put out at around 6:10 a.m. using 6 fire hoses, 2 of which were used to spread foam. The fire brigade left the site around 12:30 p.m.
Consequences and actions taken
The 2 employees who tried to put out the fire were affected by the smoke and were taken to the hospital.
As the site did not have a valve to isolate the sewerage system or containment tank, the fire extinguishing water was not retained and flowed:
- over the ground, towards the runoff ditches that led to the Resaigne River;
- into the site’s soil.
The pH level at the site was measured at 8 and 6 in the stream below the village. As a precautionary measure (potential pollution by the thermal degradation products of polystyrene: benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and styrene), a drinking water intake located just 200 m away is closed. A monitoring system was set up in that location.
The buildings and operating equipment were destroyed. Eight employees were laid off.
The company was declared in receivership in July. The facilities were not regularly reported (even though the reporting thresholds were exceeded for transit, sorting, non-hazardous, non-inert waste consolidation and polymer processing activities).
In addition to the absence of a firefighting water containment system, the Inspection authorities for classified facilities noted several irregularities at the site, including the absence of exterior walls and 2-hour fire break walls in buildings housing combustible waste.
Following the accident, the operator declared a complete cessation of activity. It was required to remove waste from the site, remove rubble and screeds to entirely strip down site and conduct soil tests once the clearing operations were completed.