TARASCON, France (AFP) — A Canadian-owned paper pulp company went on trial on Wednesday for flouting emissions rules at its mill in southern France, the country's biggest.
Fibre Excellence, owned by Paper Excellence which is headquartered in British Columbia, has been charged with "emitting polluting substances," notably heavy metals and nitrogen oxide gas.
Paper Excellence in turn is owned by Jackson Widjaja, whose family runs Asia Pulp and Paper, an Indonesia-based global industry giant.
Authorities were alerted to a potential problem after locals reported rotten-egg like odors emanating from the mill as far away as the city of Arles — 12 miles to the south of the plant.
Dozens of plaintiffs, including environmental associations, were present in the courtroom, as was the mill's CEO, Roger Girard.
The mill, located in Tarascon on the Rhone river, has been operating since the 1950s and is covered by the EU Seveso directive because of the potentially hazardous chemicals it uses.
The plant is France's biggest pulp mill, according to Fibre Excellence's president Jean-Francois Guillot.
The company entered bankruptcy proceedings in October and secured a government loan of $8.7 million after its owners declined to help.
According to the French finance ministry, the company is of strategic value for the paper and pulp industry in southern France, using 1.2 tons of timber per year.
Nathalie Triboulet, who manages one of Fibre Excellence's suppliers, told AFP she was "very worried" for the future.
Fibre Excellence told suppliers this week that it was taking no more deliveries until further notice.
The company was not immediately available for comment.
© Agence France-Presse