Twenty years after Metaleurop closed, bullets still wreak havoc

For nearly a year, journalists from the investigative program “Vert de rage” (France 5) have been investigating lead contamination around the former Nord smelter, which closed in 2003. The results were presented to residents and elected officials, on Friday, April 29, In Evin-Malmaison.

On Thursday, April 29, a hundred residents and elected officials gathered at the village hall of Yvon Malmaison, in Pas-de-Calais. They came to hear the presentation of the results of the investigation by the team of the investigative program “Vert de rage” (France 5), dedicated to lead contamination associated with the activity of the ancient foundry Metaleurop, located a stone’s throw away. , in the town of Noyelles-Godault.

Lead in schools, playgrounds, playgrounds, parks… The conclusion is clear: heavy metals are everywhere. It’s an environmental drama. says Martin Baudot, director of the documentary. “The results are very worrying,” Bruno Adolphi, president of the PIGE Association, who has been fighting since 2016 to get Environmental damage caused by mining plant activity.

Metaleurop closed its doors in 2003, leaving behind 830 employees…and irreversibly polluting the environment with lead and cadmium. At the time, the plant, classified Seveso, was the largest lead producer in Europe. Up to 130,000 tons were produced there every year, in addition to zinc and sulfuric acid.

Now, the area around the industrial site is considered the most polluted in France and extends over an area of ​​more than 650 hectares. Three municipalities are mainly concerned: Noyelles-Godault, Courcelles-lès-Lens and Evin-Malmaison, which are the most affected, as they are located in the main axis of the prevailing winds.

Although the deteriorating environmental situation has long been known, this survey has updated, confirmed and consolidated data on the consequences of this large-scale pollution. Conclusion: Even twenty years after metallurgy closed, lead still occupies soil, plants, and objects at very high levels. At risk to the health of the population.

For about a year, the “Vert de rage” team analyzed the presence of bullets in three different places. First in Evin-Malmaison municipal soil (botanical gardens, nursery, playgrounds, playground, former factory site, etc.). Then in vegetables and aromatic plants grown by individuals. Finally, in the hair of the 29 children and 21 adults who live in Evin Malmaison.

In terms of soil, the results are promising. At the former Metaleurop site, lead concentrations were 774 times higher than the evacuation threshold, in accordance with applicable regulations. In the vegetable gardens in Evin-Malmaison, rates were 3.6 to 5.7 times higher than the evacuation threshold. They have crossed this same threshold in some facilities that welcome children, such as the Françoise Dolto school or the Gerard Hoyler Stadium.

When lead levels exceed this evacuation threshold, Haut Conseil de la Santé Publique (HCSP) recommends Conduct a systematic examination of lead poisoning in children (editor’s note of acute lead poisoning)“. According to Martin Baudot, director, “No examination has been carried out since 2012.”

Another area of ​​analysis for this survey: the vegetable gardens of Evin Malmaison. In this municipality of mining basin, workers’ houses are numerous with a small area of ​​land and lead to gardening. Leek and thyme leaves were taken from different gardens, and then analyzed in the Laboratory of Medical Biology of APHP Lariboisière, under the supervision of a toxicologist.

Even in the most polluted areas, people eat what they grow at home

Youssef Boya, Evin Malmaison Resident and Municipal Counselor

Findings, thyme leaves in the most exposed vegetable gardens had a lead level 91 times higher than normal. For leeks, planted in the same place, this level exceeds 80 times the norm. This, even after the traditional washing of vegetables.

How many Ifinois continue to feed themselves with what they grow in their garden? “Even in the most polluted areas, people eat what they grow at home, Yeven Malmaison resident and municipal advisor Yusuf Boya reassured. Because for years, we haven’t asked ourselves that question and even today we don’t talk about it much.

The final important part of this investigation: hair analysis in 29 children from Evin-Malmaison. This was done in collaboration with the Environmental Toxicology Laboratory in Canada. Two areas of hair were studied: the hair bulb (for measurement of lead content in the blood) and the first centimeter of the root (for environmental exposure within the past month).

Thus, in these children, the concentration of lead in the first centimeter of the hair is 1.381% higher than in the follicle. It is difficult to draw conclusions at these levels because we lack references to compare with the average child in France, Martin Baudot explains. But these findings suggest that it will be necessary to assess the current environmental exposure, since health authorities have not conducted screening among children in the area since 2005.

For the first time, an estimate in this region of the number of lead poisoning cases – The name given tolead poisoning – And the figures published by the director. These results indicate that between 1962 and 2020, in the cities of Evin-Malmaison, Courcelles-les-Lens and Noël-Godault, according to thresholds established before 2014, 1673 children developed this disease. In the same geographical area, but taking into account the new standard, the number will increase to 5,815 children.

The less leadership we have, the better off we are.

Jean-Marie Huguenier, toxicologist and professor emeritus

Lead poisoning is especially dangerous for children and can cause Multiples Irreversible (nervous system damage, encephalopathy and neuropathy). There is an association between a high level of lead and a loss of Qi points in children. And even in low doses, it can cause this harmful effects. “The less we drive, the better”, sum up Toxicologist and Professor Emeritus, Jean-Marie Huguenier.

So what to do in the face of this troubling observation? Prior to this investigative work, voices had been raised to denounce this environmental tragedy. “It’s an old battle we’ve been fighting since the 80s, Notes Jill Waterlot, PIGE Member and former elected representative of Yvonne Malmaison. We thought that the detection of poisoning cases would stop in time, but this is not the case.

In 2018, 87 townspeople filed a complaint claiming compensation for loss of anxiety related to their presence in the highly polluted area. A complaint rejected by the Lille Administrative Court, “For lack of sufficiently proven damage”, David DeHarb, the plaintiffs’ attorney, explains. The latter has been resumed, and the example is in progress.

Several local actors, associations or elected officials have pointed to the state’s action, or rather its inaction. – “The state has abandoned its obligations”, Regrets Sabine van Heighe, Senator from the province of Pas-de-Calais. During a parliamentary session on November 12, 2019, the elected spoke to Elizabeth Bourne, Minister for Environmental and Inclusive Transition, accusing the country of being “I am happy to see the damage caused by the scale of the pollution, without taking All measures are taken to avoid it. The senator summarizes the response: The minister said that everything had been done to clear the land, and this was unacceptable.

The documentary film directed by Martin Bodeau will be shown on France 5 at the beginning of the next school year (September or October), as part of the “Vert de rage” programme.

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