France: Asbestos found at Verallia’s glass production site

Verallia, the leading European and the third largest producer globally of glass containers for food and beverages, has published reports that two positive asbestos samples have been found at its plant in Chalon-sur-Saône.

Following a fire on 16th July 2019, which partially damaged the fibre cement roof, employees reported that pieces of the roof were falling on a regular basis in one of the glass ovens. CGT, one of the trade unions which represent part of the workforce at the site claimed that Verallia’s management tried to conceal the risk and carried out on November 7, 2019 on their initiative analyses of pieces fallen from the roof. The results showed that 3 out of 4 samples contained asbestos which is dangerous to life when inhaled.

When confronted with the results, management of the company said that “Verallia complies with its regulatory obligations in terms of employee safety and environmental protection.” The company said that “studies were carried out on July 18 and 19, 2019 by an independent and certified analysis firm, whose results are clear: ‘No asbestos fibers were counted. No pollution of the area was detected’.”

“On September 10, 2019, a certified external service provider carried out an asbestos diagnosis of the roof, which confirmed that the measures taken were satisfactory. It was established that the roof did not present any risk to the occupants.”

At the end of November 2019, new measurements of the presence of asbestos in the air, within the mold shop, were carried out by a certified outside service provider. The results are as follows: "No asbestos fibers were counted. No pollution of the area was detected."

The management concludes that “these analyses all showed an absence of asbestos fiber in the air, confirming the absence of danger for the plant's employees and local residents alike. In any event, the study carried out by the CGT was aimed at determining the presence of asbestos fiber in materials, which is common in industrial buildings, whereas the standards in force are aimed at compliance with regulatory thresholds in the air.”

On January 6, 2020 the CGT initiated a procedure of "serious and imminent danger", an alert system which Verallia has in place for serious and imminent risk to public health and the environment. Management claims that this specific alert “was made with a two-month delay and was based on invalid arguments. It should be noted that the two other trade unions representing the majority of the employees at the Chalon site immediately disassociated themselves from the CGT's actions.”

In order to settle the dispute both sides agreed to take dust samples taken with wipes in several places in the factory, on the ground or on equipment. It was also agreed that the tests were supervised by the three unions, the Verallia management and the labor inspectorate.

Now, the results have been published and two of the ten dust samples show the presence of asbestos fibers. The company, however, did not want to comment on the results before new measurements in the factory air are conducted which will last until the end of January.

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