They work without masks, without gloves, shirtless, and with cigarettes in their mouths, making skin contact with the poisonous fumes they abundantly inhale. This is neither in Alang (India) nor in Bangladesh; it is at Laval-de-Cère, a town bordering the Massif Central, at the edges of the Cère, a tributary of the Dordogne. For ten years, Sidénergie has been transforming creosoted railway sleepers into coal for barbecue, thanks to a waiver granted by the French Superior Council of Public Hygiene.
For ten years, Robin des Bois has urged for the closure of this industrial and health scandal. This was finally scheduled for July 2013, providing great relief to the valley residents who were complaining about dirty smoke and unpleasant odors.
But it is still running, because of the regional authorities’ inertness, the leverage of employment need, and the traffic with landscapers.
The immediate termination of this madness is a priority. But closure won’t be enough. The site must be secured, countless piles of sleepers require being separated in order to avoid fire and dumping, the soil and water of the Cère must be analyzed and the former electro-metallurgic site of Pechiney cleaned up.
Every year, one million sleepers are removed from railway tracks. Their managing leads to exposing the environment and the public to the proliferation of creosote. The latter being considered as carcinogenic. In everyday life, it exposes individuals to vapors, inhaling-induced migraines, insomnia, and eye irritations. Each sleeper is deemed hazardous waste by both European and French regulations.
Sidénergie workers are not the only ones to be exposed to creosote risks. The numbers of railway sleepers continue to surge in gardens, land allotments, around swimming pools, in terraces, and in houses. They continue to be sold illegally, without the purchasers’ being made aware of the health risks. The buyers are then contractually obligated to dispose of it in a regulatory manner at the end of its use.