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.
This news reached a significant international awareness (e.g. The Guardian 2008, BBC 2008) even though this was not a new phenomenon. Industrial chemicals used in generators and other electrical equipment had been leaking toxic PCB chemicals into the Rhone River for a long time even though they are banned since 1987. PCB causes various diseases in humans and animals including poor cognitive development in children, malignant melanoma, and rare liver cancers. Many of uncontrolled pollution in France’s Rhone River have taken their toll with the discovery of PCB levels 10-12 times the safe limit in the river’s fish. The ban of fishing has affected at least 20 fishermen that needed to find a new job. The freshwater fish - often sold for €2 (£1.50) a kilo - is a staple for poor people and many immigrants as they cannot afford the more expensive sea fish.
WWF have called the widespread pollution of the Rhône, "The French Chernobyl". The WWF has launched a blood sampling campaign to determine the PCB level of 52 people, including 42 living in the Rhone delta. The results confirm an average rate of 69.9 picograms of PCBs per gram of fat, more than four times the average rate of people living far from the Rhone and not eating fish (Legrand, 2008).
The French government has then announced a research program co-financed by the industry. Suez Environnement led the project, which involved laboratories, researchers, industrialists, and SMEs (Bertrant, 2008). Ten years after the banning on fishing, the PCB is not completely eliminated. Two decontamination plants have been in charge of cleaning it up. However many PCB are very persistent and insoluble in water. Therefore cleaning up is very difficult and PCBs will remain for a long time in the Rhone River. 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).