582 tonnes of dangerous products in a wilderness in Pontacq, a “high level of threat”

PMore than a hundred barrels of industrial products and contaminated sedimentation ponds. It is a time bomb that is dormant in the former Montbrun tannery in Pontacq, a town in the eastern part of Béarn, which borders the Bigorre.

According to the prefecture of Pyrénées-Atlantiques, the landfill site houses “582 tonnes of hazardous and / or combustible waste”, distributed inside the sheds as well as at the bottom of old settling basins.

PMore than a hundred barrels of industrial products and contaminated sedimentation ponds. It is a time bomb that is dormant in the former Montbrun tannery in Pontacq, a town in the eastern part of Béarn, which borders the Bigorre.

According to the prefecture of Pyrénées-Atlantiques, the landfill site houses “582 tonnes of hazardous and / or combustible waste”, distributed inside the sheds as well as at the bottom of old settling basins.

In its decree of 13 July, the prefecture mentions the risk of fire, soil and subsoil pollution or the Ousse stream “in case of flood or earth movement”. The stream runs along the back of the old factory. Some pools are located in a flood zone.

The prefecture decree allows the performance of the office of security of the premises within a maximum of two years. The Danish Agency for the Environment and Energy (Ademe) is now responsible.

This public company will evacuate and treat 582 tons of products as well as sludge and contaminated water. It is also tasked with making a diagnosis and drawing up a management plan.

Ademe agents were on site. According to the prefecture, their report concludes that the site “poses a high degree of threat to the environment and / or populations given the high risk of” off-site “impact on people, human activities and environments in the event of proliferation. And dumping of hazardous trash”.


The former Montbrun tannery in Pontacq has been demolished since 2014.

David LeDeodic

The former Montbrun tannery in Pontacq has been abandoned since 2014. Its operating company is being wound up.


The former Montbrun tannery in Pontacq has been abandoned since 2014. Its operating company is being wound up.

David LeDeodic

A carved place

“It is an industrial wasteland that is at high risk, the size of the department and New Aquitaine,” confirms Pontacq Mayor Didier Larrazabal. close to the city center and on the outskirts of Ousse ”.

The local public land institution (EPFL) had announced that it would take responsibility for the investigations with a view to a possible acquisition of the site … once the pollution had been completed. Around the old tannery, the first houses are a few dozen meters away. “There are regularly children who come into the old tannery to skateboard,” says François, a local resident who has lived there for 20 years. It is especially dangerous for them. Sowing ponds have sloping edges. If you fall in, it’s hard to get up again. »

The issue of burglary is all the more significant as one of the entrances to the site on Tuesday 19 July was not locked. “Every time we put a lock on, someone breaks it,” Didier Larrazabal laments. On Wednesday, July 20, the mayor will ensure that access is locked again “immediately”.

700,000 euros for pollution

In 2021, the prefecture issued three orders regarding the site. One to impose security, another to notify. The third established a consignment of 699,541 euros including tax, that is, the amount of the cleaning work to be performed.

Apart from the fact that the previous operator of the site – the simplified public limited company (SAS) SAS Montbrun – has been put into liquidation since 2014. In January 2022, the preliminary accounting policies prepared by the liquidator concluded that there are no funds to honor the shipment.

The latest prefecture decree specifies that the work and investigations will be carried out “at the expense of the natural or legal persons responsible for the former site of the Pontacq tannery”.

But who is responsible? In 2007, SAS Montbrun was sold to the Prevent group based in Bosnia (see our box). Today, the identity of the president of SAS means nothing to anyone locally. “It’s a Brazilian nominee,” slips a former tannery employee.

The state services have taken “administrative sanctions” against the company, the prosecutor’s office for Pau states. The latter could be asked for possible criminal sanctions. But the prosecution stresses, “that there will always be this problem of identifying the person responsible”. Unless you are going to Bosnia?

Contacted, Prevent group did not respond.

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