A quarry that divides the population of Glomel

The town of Glomel – population 1350 – is very quiet on this winter morning. There are no colorful slogans on the roads here, no banners against the plan to keep the mine operating. However, the situation is tense, as confirmed by the mayor, Bernard Trubuilt, who was elected after early elections last September. “It's pretty violent, I agree. Two camps face each other, for and against.

“In the current place”

The stakes are high. Because, since 1970, the mine managed by the international group Imerys has ensured the livelihood of many families in that sector. 120, say the defenders of the mine; 95, according to critics. The green light from the prefecture, followed by an investment of 12.3 million euros, would allow the mining group to exploit the local vein of andalusite – an ore used in the composition of refractory materials – until 2042, in the opening of the fourth well. Otherwise, the machines will have to stop digging in 2033. “Many families live directly from this activity,” specifies the mayor, who has always expressed support for the mining group. Not to mention the 80 service companies that depend on this production. The whole of central Brittany benefits from it.”

The mayor also praised Imerys' seriousness and response. “This project will be carried out on the current site of the quarry. I do not understand the arguments of the opponents.”

6300 signatures on the petition

However, more than 6,300 people have signed a petition posted online. “Many people were not from the industry. As well as those who recorded comments on the communal investigation. Associations know how to mobilize en masse”, commented the elected official.

In recent months, this topic has dynamized municipal life, as explained by former mayor and former regional councilor Thierry Troël, a farmer in the sector who preferred to resign. He explains: “As I have never spoken out in favor of the project, I am classified as an opponent. I believe I have been the victim of a carefully orchestrated smear campaign.” In September 2023, after returning his scarf to the municipal council, the latter even spoke of “a sickening populist overtone, cowardice, professional destabilization”. Thierry Troël believes that he has done his job as an elected official to the end. “Namely, seeking a high level of requirements when we deal with the health of citizens as well as the quality of water and air.”

And exactly, what do we blame Imerys for? Explosive explosions loosening the rocks, ejection of dust, excessive consumption of water, but also the infiltration of polluting elements such as aluminum, nickel, iron and manganese, which, according to environmental associations, accumulated in the Crazius pond, at the foot of the quarry. “The problem is that the water from this pond flows into Ellé, which supplies water to the municipality. The Morbihan water supply union was also touched by this situation,” emphasizes Jean-Daniel Bourdonnay from Refrac'Terres, who launched an online petition with two other associations (Douar Bev and Bascule Argoat). Another complaint, again according to Jean-Denis Bourdonnay, Imerys was supposed to start the construction of an ozonation plant for the chemical disinfection of waste water in 2018. A project that should be finished soon.

We tried to contact Imerys, who did not want to answer our questions. We only received an SMS stating that the examination of the extension was entrusted to Dreal and the prefecture. At the same time as this approach, we turned to the career support committee, which was established in early 2023. “We are working to preserve jobs and present the site to the general public. Our group includes employees, of course, but also people outside Imerys. We are reasonable people and are open to dialogue.” Dialogue which, as far as we are concerned, was recorded with our agreement. Atmosphere…

One extraction site in Europe
Glomel is the only mining site for andalusite, an aluminosilicate, in the northern hemisphere. There are other mines in South Africa and South America. The Breton site alone supplies 25% of global production. Each year, 1.5 million tons of rock and sediments are extracted from the depths of the earth for a concentrated ore production of 85,000 tons. About 200 industrial plants depend on this production. Andalusite – or Guerphalite, named after the place where the mine is located – has a strong refractory power. It is used in the composition of materials that can withstand temperatures above 1,500°C, for example in steel production areas, foundries and cement plants. According to the Imerys website, 64% of production is used for European industry. The rest is exported, especially through the ports of Brest and Légué (22) to China, India, the United States, Japan and Taiwan. The Glomel deposit is listed as a deposit of national and European interest. Imerys Group, the world leader in the supply of minerals for industry, is present in about forty countries around the world. It employs about 15,000 people and achieved a turnover of 3.8 billion euros in 2022. In France, the group is currently working on a lithium extraction project in Échassières (Allier). Every year, 34,000 tons of lithium hydroxide would be extracted there, which would enable the production of batteries to equip 700,000 electric vehicles.

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