July 9, 2018 / 12:03 PM / a year ago

Sanofi halts production at Pyrenees plant after pollution complaint

PARIS (Reuters) - Drugmaker Sanofi has stopped production at a plant in the French Pyrenees after an environment body filed a complaint against what it said was massive air pollution.

FILE PHOTO: The Sanofi logo in front of the entrance of the French drug company's headquarters in Paris, October 30, 2014. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann/File Photo

France Nature Environnement, a federation representing some 3,500 local associations, said on Sunday that emissions of polluting agents at Sanofi’s Mourenx plant in southwest France, which produces the epilepsy treatment valproate, had been 7,000 times above the limit allowed by French law.

The organization expressed particular concern about bromopropane, a widely used solvent, emissions of which were 190,000 and 90,000 times above legal thresholds during two testing operations conducted in March and October last year.

It was unclear for how long the pollution had occurred.

“Sanofi Chimie has decided to stop production at its Mourenx site starting today and to carry out the announced technical improvements,” a Sanofi spokesman said in an emailed statement.

The company had earlier said that a collecting unit had been set up to treat emissions and reduce them significantly.

Sanofi also said it had asked an independent organization to assess possible effects on local populations. The study, Sanofi said, found that they had not been put at increased risk, though the spokesman declined to provide access to the study.

France Nature Environnement says that bromopropane can cause respiratory and skin infections as well as cancer.

Sanofi’s epilepsy drug, sold as the brand Depakine for epilepsy and Depakote and Depamide for bipolar disorders, has been the subject of health scares in various countries over the lack of information given to patients about the risks associated with active ingredient valproate when taken during pregnancy.

Information provided with valproate has long included a warning about the possible risk of birth defects, but this failed to prevent up to 4,100 children in France suffering serious deformities between 1967 and 2016, officials said in 2017.

Depakine, which lost its patent in 1998, is prescribed in more than 100 countries.

Reporting by Matthias Blamont; Editing by Michel Rose and David Goodman

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