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AZF (French initialism for AZote Fertilisant, i.e. nitrogen fertiliser) was the name of a chemical factory in Toulouse, France, which exploded on 21 September 2001. The blast was equivalent to 20-40 tons of TNT, measuring 3.4 on the Richter scale, and was heard 80 km away (50 miles). The explosion caused 29 deaths, with 2,500 wounded, around 30 of them heavily. Damages already paid by insurance exceed 1.5 billion euros.
Although authorities were initially confident it was an accident, an Environment Minister later concluded the explosion could have been "a terrorist attack" in the wake of the September 11 attacks. The body of a worker with Islamic fundamentalist sympathies was found in the blast and investigated. An official enquiry found the blast to be accidental. In Spring 2004, a terrorist group adopted the same name and threatened the French government with bombings on railways.
Toulouse chemical factory explosion
Three hundred tonnes of ammonium nitrate was stored (the maximum capacity was 2,000 tonnes) in the hangar #221. The whole factory was destroyed making a crater of depth 20 to 30 m (65 to 100 ft), with a diameter of 200 m (650 ft); steel girders were found 3 km away from the explosion. The blast measured 3.4 on the Richter scale, with an estimated power equivalent to 20-40 tons of TNT. The explosion was heard 80 km away (50 miles). Due to the acoustics of the hills and the large sound, the explosion was reported as occurring in multiple places. Police at first believed that at least five bombs had simultaneously gone off. There is still controversy over the exact number of explosions.
The factory was close to the city: one of the most inhabited areas, Le Mirail, is just one kilometre away (0.6 miles). Several schools, one university campus, one hospital and a psychiatric hospital had to be evacuated.
The disaster caused 29 deaths (28 from the factory, 1 secondary school pupil from a neighbouring school), about 30 seriously wounded, and 2,500 light casualties. Two thirds of the city's windows were shattered, causing 70 eye wounds and several thousand wounds which had to be sutured. The full environmental consequences of the catastrophe are not yet completely known. The total damages already paid by insurance groups currently exceed 1.5 billion euros.
Specifically it is believed by mandated official experts that "a mislabeled 500 kg bin of sodium dichloroisocyanurate mistakenly thought to be ammonium nitrate was dumped in the off spec ammonium nitrate warehouse. Here under sufficiently hot and humid conditions it could have reacted with the ammonium nitrate to form nitrogen trichloride which is an exceedingly unstable compound. The decomposition of the nitrogen trichloride could have provided the heat and pressure required to detonate the ammonium nitrate which when used as an industrial explosive typically requires detonators."
On 4 October 2001, France's then Environment Minister Yves Cochet announced that the explosion "may have been a terrorist attack" (the explosion occurred in the weeks following the September 11 attacks) and identified Hassan Jandoubi, a plant sub-contractor killed in the blast, as a person under investigation. French anti terrorist authorities were prohibited by the Toulouse prosecutor from searching Jandoubi's house for five days after the incident.
Police declared that Jandoubi had "possible Islamic fundamentalist sympathies," yet by the time the search was finally conducted, they alleged that Jandoubi's girlfriend had disposed of all traces of his clothes or photos. French authorities described the delay as damaging to the investigation.
- Barbier, Pascal (2003), Urban Growth Analysis Within a High Technological Risk Area: Case of AZF Factory Explosion in Tolouse (France), Ecole Nationale des Sciences Géographiques
- Barthelemy, Francois; Henri Hornus, Jacques Roussot, Jean-Paul Hufschmitt, and Jean-Francois Raffoux (24 October 2001), Report of the General Inspectocorate [sic] for the Environment: Accident on the 21st of September 2001 at a factory belonging to the Grande Paroisse Company in Toulouse (PDF)
- government report (archive)
- Paul Seabright What Explosion? London Review of Books Nov 1 2001
- Anti-Terror probe into French blast CNN Oct 4 2001
- Explosion in France may have been Terrorism The Michigan Daily Oct 5 2001
- Terrorism link to French explosion The Guardian Oct 5 2001
- (French) Daniel Dissy : "AZF-Toulouse, Quelle vérité ?", 2006, ISBN 2-915681-30-9, Library of Congress Control No : 2007370387.
- (French) Franck Hériot & Jean-Christian Tirat : "AZF: L'enquête assassinée",Plon. ISBN 978-2-259-20824-6
- (French) Daniel Dissy : "AZF, l'Enquête secrète - Le Mystère de la Trace Noire ou comment AZF a explosé", éditions des Traboules, Paris, 2009, ISBN 2-915681-99-6.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Usine AZF de Toulouse.|
- (French) Unofficial AZF website
- (English) AZF -a judicial fiasco ? (French News, 8.Oct.2008)
- (French) AZF: L'enquête assassinée
- (French) Le Dossier AZF by Daniel Dissy