Charges filed in toxic fire

The fire-ravaged Hima solvents factory was closed yesterday by Eastern Attica prefecture officials as authorities charged those involved in granting permits to the plant in Lavrion, southeast of Athens, with fraud and forgery. Wednesday’s massive blaze at the factory covered the Lavrion area with a thick black cloud of toxic smoke that threatened people’s health and forced residents to stay indoors. A judicial investigation found that four of the factory’s 41 chemical storage tanks had been installed using forged permits. All parties involved in the issuing of fake documents by town planning officials face criminal charges of forgery and fraud, sources said. The company said it was not aware of the fake paperwork, which had been prepared by a technical advisor the company had worked with in the past. Court records show that four local residents had taken the company to court over its intention to store the petrol-based products but later failed to follow through with the legal process and effectively dropped the case. Meanwhile, the Eastern Attica prefecture recalled all of Hima’s operating licenses, the first of which was issued in 1965. Municipal authorities have also ordered the factory to talk to firefighters about installing fire protection mechanisms. Nevertheless, the chemical plant continues to be a fire hazard, according to evidence offered by officials. The factory has no fire protection mechanisms to avoid a repeat of another damaging blaze there. Officials are still conducting environmental tests in Lavrion to assess the full extent of the damage to the area. Initial checks on the atmosphere show low pollution levels in the area, possibly because strong winds blew the toxic smoke away from the city. The results of checks on drinking water are expected by the end of next week. The Environment and Development ministries, as well as prefectural authorities, have blamed each other for the poor safety standards at the factory. Industry experts said Hima shows how badly organized small and medium-sized businesses are in Attica’s chemicals industry. As a result, many plants are operating without the proper safety standards.