It is Thursday, December 4, and we meet in the winter sun on the square in front of the post of Septêmes.
Behind the harmless side of the small gathering, the situation is uncertain. We come for some of Septêmes, for others of St Antoine, for others still Aygalades or Saint Henri Nothing that is a step aside towards the unknown but also towards the meeting…! While being all passionate about our neighborhoods and engaged in one way or another to know them better in order to take better care of them, for the most we do not know each other. Hence a little awkward silence until we are not too late. It is quite rare that we are from so many different neighborhoods, and even communes, interested in the same subject to build a stroll. So what's it all about? Objective of the afternoon, start to physically survey the places that could little by little tell us the past history and present of the chemical industry in this small commune bordering Marseille, with which it shares (among other) the river It is called Caravelle, then from the Aygalades Brook of Aygalades. The desire for this stroll in construction is therefore clearly to link a local industrial heritage history to current ecological situations, especially by focusing on relations (via industry, geography, the river…) of this Small rural commune to its big neighbour Marseille. So our little team will get to know the way, knowing that we don't really know which way we're going to go, and starts. We found a consensus to begin the exploration: to see at the bottom of the mayor's Glen the discharges of the Spi Pharma plant, a major source of the current pollution of Caravelle Brook. On the way, Pierre, inhabitant end connoisseur of the places sharing anecdotes of village and river, between floating cows during the flood of 1907, remnants of Fountain and traces of the old wash-house and mill.
From a postcard from the middle of the 20th century it gives…
Very soon we also find ourselves trying to unravel what we know of the watershed of the Aygalades, i.e. of all these tributaries, some of which are no longer considered as memories, and others as sewers.
We follow them in what we can see…
And if you look at a map, a river is a multitude…
Study of knowledge of the hazard flooding on the watershed of Aygalades-Setec Hydratec 2015
The stroll continues to the very bucolic glen of the mayor. Several assumptions about the name, including that at one point one of the factories that bordered it was owned by the mayor of the municipality.
As we are in the idea of exploring a Toxic tour, we do not miss this spectacular arrival of parcels from China in the brook of the mayor (tributary which will therefore throw himself in Caravelle). Some (Isabelle and Bernard are active members of the EASA association that fights industrial pollution in Septêmes and its environs) will conduct the investigation…
On the way one agrees the joy of taking a scrub path to look on the steps of Isabelle a mysterious source of lilacs… It's not easy to identify it, but it's finally found.
Little by little the industrial traces are more present. Funny tunnels of giant moles around here, the forest chimney by there, hills that feel more and more the embankment and the Bing.
Here we are in the historical landscapes of local chemistry.
Good there it will be necessary to take a few more sentences to explain (with the help of the knowledge of all and some supplements of the historian Xavier Daumalin…):
The history of the chemical industry in Marseille and its region is linked to that of the soda, necessary for the manufacture of the soap of Marseille. Originally produced from plants, a new process patented by a certain Nicolas Leblanc in 1791 goes slowly (because in the beginning the Marseille continued to import plant soda because less expensive and less… Pollutant…) Change the yield by allowing a production from the decomposition of sea salt with sulfuric acid.
The movement to the LEBLANC process will begin in 1809, with the opening of a factory south of Marseille. The continuation of the story, exciting and complex, you will be told by walking, but for now we remember that the development of the factories is then intense in Marseille and that from the years 1815 protests, trial, multiply by People concerned about the effects of gaseous releases on health and crops…
And yes, environmental concerns are not just contemporary issues...!
Septêmes was the first commune outside Marseille, both close and perceived as sufficiently rural to be "far from the city", to welcome this rapid growth of the soudières.
It will also be the queen of the protesters, four factories of the industrialists blush, Grimes, Rigaud, Crémieux and Delpuget being implanted there in those years, employing nearly 170 workers.
In 1816 the factories of the Vallon are threatened with fire. It ends violently by the incarceration of several farmers. Pierre thus found the trial that one of his peasant ancestors brought to the soda. We hope to read it soon!
The state will finally put an ultimatum to the soda to reduce their gas.
It is then for some the relocation to "deserts" (Port Cros, Porquerolles, the Goudes and overall the whole coastline), for others technological research, with the establishment of these famous tunnels of moles that are spotted in the landscape , otherwise called creeping chimneys (we'll tell you how it works next time…).
But the still inhabitants of Septêmes are recrossing aligning the counter-expertise to prove the inefficiency of the invention.
The battle was hard to strike again from lawsuits and complaints. But the state and the experts of the Health Council will judge these environmental concerns unfounded, thus saving for a good long time the Provençal industry of soda…
The tumultuous history of soda will continue throughout the 19th century, on the background of technological innovations and fiscal and economic clashes, and then lead in its contents to the production of chemical fertilizers. It began in 1879 in Septêmes with the installation of the company Schloesing Frères & Cie.
The plant, of which we have the vestiges right before our eyes, produces nitrogen fertilizers from the drainage waters of the city of Marseille, as well as phosphate fertilizers.
This Schoesling group has had a certain role in adopting the model of intensive agriculture and the use of chemical fertilizers in the south of France, with quite spectacular communication companions (giant carrots!) and even a newspaper Presented as informative the field Gazette, the circulation of which will exceed 250 000 copies.
We are now coming to the bottom of the valley at the Spi Pharma factory. This company is installed in old workshops of the old industrial ensemble. It produces chemicals used in drugs, including gastric bandages (Gavascon). Spi Pharma seems to consider the mayor's Creek rather like a sewer and rejects salt and aluminum hydroxide. The increase in the salinity of a freshwater river is a major ecological upheaval which adds to the pollution of the embankments pouring into the stream when it rains.
This rejection is identified by the researchers (from the Idris, Mediterranean Institute of Biodiversity and Ecology) who are currently working to make a sort of "state of health" of the Aygalades Brook as the major source of pollution, which impacts the whole River since it is very upstream.
The EASA has intervened several times in particular with the water agency, a verbalization also took place during a very spectacular rejection in December 2016 but for the moment without major advances.
Small selections of images to get an idea of how it looks…
And the rejection of 2016:
To finish this first exploration, we leave to adventure in the remains of the factory Duclos. Located on a large part of the hill to the town centre of Septêmes, it produced both aluminum salts used in water treatments, projected concretes and the chemical Industry (duclos chemistry), and also treated Mercury (under the Name of Duclos Environnement…).
The mercury activity ceased in 2011 and had been the object of long struggles of the inhabitants against its extension, following the protest history of the commune… Today a project of depollution and Eco is in the pipes, to follow…
Little stroll in pictures in this Toxic Park in the future, on the edge of Landart, Graff and Brut Art…! Let's talk about the images…
The beginning of the conversion is visible: the new Media Library of Septêmes.
Bernard and Pierre each have their way mapped out this exciting stroll, a nice way to conclude.
Next time (12 February next afternoon), direction Lafarge!!