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Macron faces pollution anger in French West Indies

media French President Emmanuel Macron visiting a farmed contaminated by chlordecone in Morne-Rouge, Martinique, on Thursday Thomas Samson/Pool via Reuters

French President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday admittted that the French state shared responsibility for widescale pollution on the French West Indian island of Martinique but stopped short of promising compensation for all its victims. On Friday he was to travel to Guadeloupe, whose coast has been invaded by sargasso seaweed, which has given local people headaches, nausea and sickness.

"Collective blindness" was responsible for the use of chloredecone, also known as kepone in Martinique's banana plantations until 1993, despite the fact that it was banned in the US in 1973, Macron said on a visit that came a year after Hurricane Irma devastated the islands of Saint-Barthélémy and Saint-Martin.

The French state must "accept its share of responsibility" for the use of the insecticide, the suspected cause of a high rate of prostate cancer on the island, he added.

Chloredecone is still polluting the soil and more than 90 percent of the adult population of Martinique and Guadeloupe is affected by it, according to the French health authorities.

But, while it should be possible to tackle the cases of industrial diseases suffered by workers "particularly exposed" to the chemical, it would be "irresponsible to say there could be individual compensation for everyone", the president insisted, because science as yet has not established how dangerous it is for people's health.

A report is to be released in March 2019.

Toxic seaweed invasion

In Guadeloupe, Macron was to face tough questions on plans to clear up sargassum, the toxic seaweed that regularly invades the coast, preventing boats from taking to sea, ruining tourist beaches and emitting hydrogen sulfide and ammonia, which have caused headaches, nausea and vomiting in the local population.

The problem has been particularly bad this year, leading then environment minister Nicolas Hulot and Overseas Territories Minister Annick Girardin to visit in June and announce a 10 million-euro two-year plan to ensure the seaweed is cleared within 48 hours of its arrival.

Activists on Thursday filed a case in Paris alleging "blatant failures" in the government's handling of the problem.

24-hour water supply cuts

Macron was also due to comment on water shortages on the island that mean that most of the population regularly suffer cuts in the water supply of 12-24 hours.

Poorly maintained pipes mean that 60 percent of water in the system is lost.

In July an environment ministry audit blamed obsolete material, the large number of owners involved and a lack of clarity over responsibilities.

Emergency aid of 71 million euros was agreed in January with the aim of ending the problem within two years.

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