n enviromental mystery that has perplexed and worried Europeans for the past six months was solved today when 41 barrels of highly poisonous dioxin waste were located in a village in northern France.
Police, journalists and government investigators have been searching for the waste--the byproduct of an explosion at a chemical plant in the Italian city of Seveso in 1976--since it was smuggled out of Italy in September. There were rumors that it had been buried in East or West Germany or dumped in the North Sea.
The dioxin, one of the most poisonous substances known to man, was found in a butcher's abandoned warehouse in Anguilcourt-Le-Sart near Saint Quentin, to the general surprise of the village's 300 inhabitants. It was sealed in the same steel containers in which it had been stored in Italy and pronounced secure by the French authorities pending a decision on what to do with it.
The village's bewildered deputy mayor, Jean Gery, called the find "very annoying for a peaceful little community like ours." Anguilcourt is now overrun by police, Justice Ministry officials, and journalists from much of Western Europe.
The dioxin waste was hidden in the village by Bernard Paringaud, 66, a former parachute officer who has built up a business getting rid of other people's embarrassing rubbish. A French science magazine established in March that his Marseilles-based transport firm had been hired to dispose of the material. Paringaud was arrested after refusing to reveal where it had been taken.
Today, he ended six weeks of silence in an interview with a judge in Saint Quentin.
Hoffmann-La Roche, the Swiss company that owns the Seveso plant through a subsidiary, maintained that it did not know what had happened to the waste. It announced last month that it was ready to take the barrels back if and when they were found.
The explosion at Seveso in July 1976 was the biggest environmental disaster in Europe. It led to the town's evacuation, the disfigurement of several hundred children and the deaths of more than 3,000 animals.
Removal of the waste that was collected from the explosion later became a major emotional issue in Italy. It is likely to have a similar impact here.