Alès: pollution of the former mining site, the report that overwhelms the State and Umicore

The Duparc report, made public in recent days, will be examined by the administrative jurisdiction of Nîmes in February. The town hall of Saint-Félix has already incurred €250,000 in expert fees.

In 2013, in Saint-Félix-de-Pallières, the collapse of a slab on a hole about fifty meters deep, brought to light an old mining site, shaft No. 1. After an attempt to amicable agreement with Umicore, the former industrial operator of the site, the municipality initiated an administrative procedure, in summary, in 2015.

Today, the procedure is still ongoing. “We have decided to go to cassation, explains Michel Sala, the mayor of the town. It’s a question of strategy, we don’t want the arguments that we reserve for the substantive hearing to be minimized during the interim examination. The concern is that all of this is costing us €250,000 in legal fees and expert opinions.”

The substantive hearing at the Nîmes administrative court is scheduled for February. And this time, it will be necessary to take into account the Duparc report – named after the legal expert specializing in geology and geophysics – recently made public.

Well No. 1 and the surrounding land are fueling all the speculation. Whistleblower Johnny Bowie regularly denounces the presence of heavy metals in significant quantities. There would also be talk of burying radioactive waste. The French Public Health Commission of Inquiry, made up of CNRS members of researchers, questioned a Umicore executive.

The presence of radioactive waste mentioned

In the hearing minutes, the scientist questions: “Did the monitoring and information committee (CSI) ask that samples be taken from the well to find out what is under the embankments?” Response from Umicore: “It is the court that manages, not the monitoring committee. There have been rumors that Umicore has backfilled the well with radioactive waste. This is obviously false.

The scientist continues: “The term radioactive can be taken in the sense of accepting hypertoxic products. In industrial logic, “borderline” products can be considered inert, but ten years later this is no longer the case. been observed in garbage dumps, mining sites, quarries that have been backfilled, sometimes criminally, as the Camorra did in southern Italy.”

“Yes, but it wasn’t a dump, challenges Umicore’s framework. At the time, it was a well that was backfilled. The boss of the company who realized this is alive, but no one questioned him.” And the scientist to resume: “It’s unfortunate, but in effect it’s a dump.”

I cannot certify that there were none. (waste, Editor’s note), admits the Umicor executive. In the night, some may use a hole to dump things without our knowledge. It was not the spirit of society. We did not work with this type of product. I think that there were amalgams with a problem that would have existed on radioactive waste in the sector.

Pushing investigations to find out which site it is could be interesting. With regard to well No. 1, the Duparc report castigates the operator who “should have noted that the volume of earth used for the filling was insufficient, to provide a stock of materials to complete the filling, to fence the site in order to limit access to it”.

This last argument is also the responsibility of the State, notes the expert. The cost of depollution and monitoring of the site is estimated at €400,000. Far from the €35,000 offered by Umicore. The expert also points out “the abnormal presence of metals over several km2 around well No. 1, which forms a coherent whole”.

Tornac couple attack the state and appeal

On September 28, the administrative court of Nîmes rejected the request for compensation of up to 1M € from a couple living in Tornac. The latter has incurred more than €28,000 in expert fees and is seeking joint condemnation from the State and the municipality.

Me Tom Schneider, the couple’s lawyer, details the arguments put forward during the hearing: “The analyzes of air, water, soil, plants… are complex. We asked that all these expertise be the responsibility of the State. My clients bought a property to create lodgings. They obtained a building permit to rehabilitate the place. They have invested heavily and next to their property there are signs, installed at the request of the State, indicating the danger of pollution in the area.”

Without waiting for the December 12 deadline, the plaintiffs confirmed their intention to appeal the decision.

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