Children victims of Industrial Wasteland

31 May 2012

On Sunday May 6th, a twelve-year-old child trespassed onto the transformer of the Usmeco plant, at Conches-en-Ouche in the French department Eure (Normandy). This former plant for the surface treatment of metals was the subject of bankruptcy eleven years ago. Despite the interventions from the ADEME (Environmental Agency and Energy Control), there are still dangerous materials inside and heavy metals and cyanides contaminated the soil. The site was not supervised and was not protected against intrusions. According to Robin des Bois, there are strong presumptions that the transformer was contaminated with PCB. If this is the case, it would have had to be eliminated at the latest at the end of year 2010. In any event, it is strange that a transformer inside the closed plant eleven years ago had been under voltage. Other transformers, on the property of Umesco could have been fractured in extracting some copper. The ground belongs to a SCI (real estate company) related to the former directors of Usmesco. The site of Usmesco is registered in the BASOL database that is updated by the Ministry of Ecology, Sustainable Development, and Energy. The BASOL database lists the sites and polluted grounds calling for a preventive or curative action of public powers.

Monday May 28th, a child of thirteen died after having fallen from the asbestos cement roofing from the disused and abandoned workshops of Schocher in Elbeuf in the French department Seine-Maritime (Normandy). These buildings are part of a former mill opened at the end of the nineteenth century, converted to the manufacturing of clothing from 1947 to 1977 and finally resumed by the specialized company Schocher in industrial boiler. The buildings actually belong to CREA (Communauté de l’agglomération Rouen Elbeuf Austreberthe). One of the ambitions of this communal association is to promote in its area the creation of social lodging on urban renewal sites. The site is registered in the BASIAS inventory (Database of Former Industrial and Service Activity Sites). The decisiveness of this inventory is to conserve the memory of former industrial sites in order to provide useful information to urban planning and for the protection of the environment. The BASIAS inventory is part of the national policy of management of polluted areas and grounds.

These two fatal deaths reveal the insufficient systems of security on polluted sites, physical systems preventing incursions especially means of information for the population, notably children.

The risks are many: risk of intoxication by contact with dangerous materials, death from contact with electrical equipment, falls into holes or hidden traps, risk of fire or collapse of roofing and from degraded walls. Promoters speculate, develop contractors consider, and the mayors and services of the State have other things to worry about. The judicial administrators do not have a penny as the disagreements linger on. The private and public finances are missing; therefore the preventive information is nonexistent. Thousands of sites that are dangerous to life and health are free to access. It is the forgotten face of deindustrialization.

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