PCB Polluted Rhône, France

France's Rhone River polluted by PCB Chemical Waste: Fishing ban destroys livelihoods of local fishermen and destroys staple diet of poor.


In 2007 the French government has banned the consumption of fish (local species include bream, pikeperch, carp and catfish) from the entire Rhône. This river is one of the major rivers of Europe and has twice the average discharge of France’s longest river Loire. The fish are today unsafe to eat. 

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Basic Data
NamePCB Polluted Rhône, France
Accuracy of LocationMEDIUM regional level
Source of Conflict
Type of Conflict (1st level)Industrial and Utilities conflicts
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Water access rights and entitlements
Landfills, toxic waste treatment, uncontrolled dump sites
Chemical industries
Aquaculture and fisheries
Specific CommoditiesWater
Industrial waste
Chemical products
Project Details and Actors
Project DetailsIn 2007 the French government banned the consumption of fish from entire French Rhone River because of high pollution levels. There have been problems with PCB contamination since the 1980s. PCB levels at 10-12 times the safe limit in the river’s fish. Since 1967 about 70 tons of PCB had been released into the Rhone River. The Rhône River drains a catchment area of 98,000 km² in southeastern France. It has a 512 kilometer main stem downstream of Lake Geneva and flows to the Mediterranean Sea. Large urbanized areas (including Lyon, Valence, Montélimar, Orange, Avignon and Arles) occupy its valley. At least 20 fishermen needed to find a new job, whereas the functions linked to leisure activities were saved, despite recreational anglers having to stop consuming their fish. In the recent years PCB level have decreased. However the half-life (moment at which the substance has lost half of its toxity) varies from 94 days to 2700 years depending on the molecules and PCBs are very insoluble in water. Furthermore new other pollutants occurred after the floods caused by heavy rainfall in January 2018. As with each flood, the river has carried its silt but also a worrying cocktail of PCBs, heavy metals, solvents flame retardant compounds, pesticides and nitrates resulting from atmospheric, industrial and agricultural pollution, and even from impermeable garments (Médias Citoyens Diois 2018).
Project Area (in hectares)9,800
Level of Investment (in USD)10,500,000
Type of PopulationUrban
Start Date01/01/2007
Company Names or State EnterprisesTrédi from France - En raison de la spécificité de son activité, l'entreprise Trédi, seule autorisée en Rhône-Alpes à rejeter des PCB, est apparue comme un symbole de cette pollution au moment où le Rhône était de nouveau le théâtre d'une crise importante. Malgré une contribution historique incontestable à la pollution du fleuve, elle ne peut cependant être tenue pour unique responsable.
Environmental justice organisations and other supportersWWF France: http://www.stopauxpcb.com/rhone.php

Profil Environnemental: http://www.profil-environnement.rhonealpes.fr/des_programmes_d_action_pour_lutter_contre_les_teneurs_en_polychlorobiphenyles_pcb_dans_les_poissons.html
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)LOW (some local organising)
When did the mobilization beginMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups MobilizingInternational ejos
Local scientists/professionals
Fisher people
Forms of MobilizationCommunity-based participative research (popular epidemiology studies, etc..)
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Public campaigns
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Food insecurity (crop damage), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Soil contamination, Waste overflow, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems
Potential: Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity
Health ImpactsVisible: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Malnutrition, Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide, Occupational disease and accidents
Socio-economic ImpactsVisible: Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Loss of livelihood, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Project StatusUnknown
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseEnvironmental improvements, rehabilitation/restoration of area
New legislation
Technical solutions to improve resource supply/quality/distribution
New Environmental Impact Assessment/Study
Development of AlternativesThe cleaning up of the River and removing of remaining devices containing PCB has been the reaction of the state to the environmental catastrophe of PCB contamination. Suez Environnement is participating with up to €3m, the state and the regions invested €5.7m. French regulations (Decree of January 18, 2001) implements European law (Directive 96/99/EC of September 16, 1996) and provides for carrying out a plan to eliminate PCBs, in order to remove the last 500,000 devices containing PCBs from the market. With respect to the clean up of contaminated sites, only some action has been taken to date in France on polluted sediments of the major rivers. Along with the need to step up the reduction of PCB waste in water, and to support consumers and fishermen, the goal of the “PCB AXELERA” Project is to work toward the development of a full range of analytical tools and technologies for treating PCB pollution.
Do you consider this as a success?Not Sure
Why? Explain briefly.The freshwater fishermen banned from selling fish have received no compensation - lost livelihoods have caused mental health problems and poverty. Many local along the Rhone river have no alternatives to their contaminated food, as they cannot afford higher priced safe food.
Sources and Materials

Comprehensive article about PCB pollution from 1967 to now
[click to view]


France's poisoned artery

Fishermen lose livelihoods
[click to view]

[click to view]

IRSTEA Investment renewed to clean Rhone
[click to view]

PCB health risks and studies of Rhone fish
[click to view]

Article in Lemonde about PCB problems in other rivers including Seine
[click to view]

The Guardian Article about French Chernobyl, Fishermen lose livelihoods
[click to view]

2018 article about pollutants in Rhone
[click to view]

Excellent summary of pollution history and status quo of Rhone pollution
[click to view]

Media Links

Interview with fisherman Cedric Giroud from Rhone
[click to view]

Other Documents

WWF campaign PCB WWF campaign PCB
[click to view]

Illustration of PCB contamination in river ecosystem
[click to view]

Map with areas banned for fishing
[click to view]

Fishing prohibited!
[click to view]

Meta Information
ContributorJasmine Moodie, Sophie Chisholm: edited by Gabriel Weber
Last update26/01/2018