Pressure mounts on the mineral wool industry in France, as public inquiry opens and new association is formed

The past weeks have seen some increasing hurdles for the mineral wool (or Manmade Vitreous Fibres – MMVF, as it is also known) industry in France, as they face concern and opposition around Rockwool’s plant in the Soissons area.

This past week has seen the opening of a public inquiry prior to the construction and operation of mineral wool plant planned by industry giant Rockwool. The inquiry is taking place 14 October to 12 November and falls under the category of inquiries that the French state undertakes prior to the completion of worksites that may harm the environment. The project is then submitted for authorisation.

The inquiry announcement comes two years after Rockwool announced their 22,000 m2 factory plans in the Plateau area near Soissons. Its future production is estimated at 115,000 tonnes per year.

It will take place in the municipalities concerned, Courmelles and Ploisy, according to the notice of inquiry published on the prefecture's website. The public can participate by visiting one of the two town halls at the set times or by e-mail.

A few months after its announcement that it planned a factory, the Rockwool group carried out a preliminary public consultation to inform and discuss with residents, elected officials and associations. The project has provoked some strong opposition from some Soissonnais, including local elected officials. When Rockwool originally announced their €140m of investment, plus the 150 direct and 400 indirect jobs that could be created might have been initially welcomed, not least Soissons is in the Aisne region of France, which has suffered unemployment during the last 30 years.

But opponents describe what they see as the ‘toxic risks’ of the plant, plus the unsuitability of the local roads for more heavy trucks and the consequences for local health have caused growing concerns among local residents.

The mineral wool industry in France does not only have a public inquiry to worry about. Activists concerned about the impact the new mineral wool plant in Courcelles had formed Stop Rockwool in February 2020. They have begun to formalise their group by seeking ‘association’ status last month at the Aisne prefecture. The group campaigns on their views that the mineral production plant project is not economically relevant to the area and their concern about its health impact, as aired at their public meeting in March 2020. The group is led by Yannick Champain, architect and departmental president of the Human Rights League, Jean-Michel Tallet, Élisabeth Anger, Claudine Champion and Karen Marchetti.

Stop Rockwool plans to travel to Illange, Moselle, to see the Knauf mineral wool production plant which already in operation. They plan to meet with members of the Stop Knauf association, created to oppose the installation of the factory and which today monitors its activity and possible nuisances.

The growing opposition to the Soissons plant in France is reminiscent of the campaign against a mineral wool plant in Jefferson Country in the USA. It will be a challenge for the industry, given there are no only concerns about the health impact of producing the insulation material, but also of installing, removing and disposing of it.

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Gary Cartwright

Gary Cartwright

Gary Cartwright is publishing editor of EU Today.

An experienced journalist and published author, he specialises in environment, energy, and defence.

He also has more than 10 years experience of working as a staff member in the EU institutions, working with political groups and MEPs in various policy areas.

Gary's latest book WANTED MAN: THE STORY OF MUKHTAR ABLYAZOV: A Manual for Criminals on How to Avoid Punishment in the EU is currently available from Amazon

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