“Initially, it only happened from time to time, generally during periods of heavy rain, high tides. We suddenly felt like an odor, an outgassing, with immediate burns to the eyes, to the face. , sinuses, headaches … And a taste in the mouth, as if sucking on a piece of scrap metal”, depicts a policeman, who wishes to remain anonymous, like five other Berckois officials interviewed by AFP.
But since this winter, the symptoms, “more intense” and “almost permanent”, have worsened. They affect, according to the police, the “vast majority of the staff” of the police station.
In 2014, after several discomforts, the prefecture decided to evacuate the police station. And transferred the sixty agents in “temporary buildings”, the time to analyze the air.
“As they found nothing, we returned to the walls. But the phenomenon happened again,” sighs the first witness.
Neither the work on ventilation and piping, nor several temporary moves to prefabricated buildings erected in the courtyard of the building – which eventually became permanent – solved the problem. The fumes “always end up coming back”, enrage the police.
– A dozen sick leaves –
Questioned by AFP, the Pas-de-Calais prefecture confirms that “for the past few weeks, suspicious odors, seeming to cause respiratory and skin problems for the police, have been observed again”. But this phenomenon had, according to her, “no longer been observed since 2017”.
“A dozen police officers are currently on sick leave, without a causal link having been established to date,” she adds.
A specialized company has been commissioned for “an environmental investigation” and samples are “currently being taken” on the site, she explains. The “preventive medicine” for its part prescribed “medical analyzes to all civil servants”.
The Minister of the Interior announced in mid-May the construction of a new police station in 2024, for around seven million euros. Until then, “a transitional accommodation solution will be offered” to Berckois police officers, “as a precautionary measure”, promises the prefecture.
Pending the analyses, the administration is “studying” in particular a “very soon and provisional transfer of the workforce” to the Touquet-Paris-Plage police station.
If a “calm” had indeed been noted since 2017, “the problem was not solved for all that”, nuance the departmental secretary of Unit SGP Police-FO, Arnaud Moreau. “We have no perspective on the nature of these nuisances, so we are very worried about the officials.”
– “Solvent tanks” –
In addition to respiratory discomfort and “patches on the skin”, many now report “sensations of suffocation”, “painful pressure in the eardrums”, “vertigo” or even bleeding from the nose or ears. Some “consulted an ENT doctor. Their sinuses were completely burned”, assures an agent.
Among the elements analyzed in the urine, according to them: the concentration of certain metals or chemical solvents, such as toluene or xylene. Results expected within thirty days.
In the meantime, the police can only make assumptions, based on the history of the old police station, inaugurated in the early 1980s, which previously housed the laundry of a holiday center and perhaps “tanks of solvents” . The site was also an ammunition depot for German weapons from the Great War.
The fumes began “just after major road works” on the nearby roundabout in 2013, they observe.
“We absorb something every day, for years. We want to know if it’s serious”, alarms a policeman. “We poison ourselves, and we are left to wait,” said another.
Several agents have already filed “injury in service” files, or are considering exercising their “right of withdrawal”. “To protect themselves, if diseases were to break out.”