Total chemical unit's explosion trial begins

Trial began Feb. 23 against Total's fertilizer affiliate Grande Paroisse and the manager of the company's Toulouse plant where a workshop containing waste ammonitrates exploded in 2001.

Feb 24th, 2009

Doris Leblond
OGJ Correspondent

PARIS, Feb. 24 -- Trial began Feb. 23 against Total SA's fertilizer affiliate Grande Paroisse and the manager of the company's Toulouse plant where a workshop containing waste ammonitrates exploded in 2001. The company and manager are accused of homicide, causing injury to workers, and involuntary destruction.

In what is considered one of the worst industrial catastrophes in France since World War II, the Sept. 21, 2001, explosion killed 31 people, injured 2,400, damaged 30,000 buildings, and destroyed 1,000 jobs. While denying blame, Total and its insurance companies have distributed €2 billion in compensation.

The crux of the proceedings will be to determine the cause of the explosion. Total and Grande Paroisse employees deny responsibility, rejecting the premise that chlorine got mixed in with the ammonitrates, causing the explosion. A number of other possibilities have emerged, including that it may have been an act of terrorism.

The trial is scheduled to last 4 months.

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