Footage of blaze at Italy meat factory falsely shared as 'chemical plant fire'

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Footage of smoke billowing from a meat factory in northeast Italy has been viewed tens of thousands of times in social media posts falsely claiming it shows a fire at a chemical plant. While the blaze that ripped through the cured meat factory in the city of Verona sparked concerns about the impact on local residents' health, authorities said that air quality analysis indicated there was no risk to the population.

"Recently, a fire broke out at a chemical plant in Verona, Italy, releasing a large amount of toxic gas," reads a simplified Chinese post on Weibo from February 22.

The post, which was published by a Chinese journalist with more than three million followers, added that the blaze caused "an environmental disaster in Europe".

"People: Where is Greta Thunberg?" referring to the teenage environmental activist.

The video, which has more than 9,000 views, shows a huge cloud of smoke billowing from an industrial unit.

Screenshot of a Weibo post sharing the false claim, taken on March 8, 2023.

The video attracted more than 50,000 views in similar posts, falsely claiming it showed a chemical plant fire, including Twitter, Facebook, Telegram and US social media site Gettr, and in various languages including Dutch, French, and English.

The posts emerged after a freight train derailed and released toxic chemicals in the US town of East Palestine in Ohio on February 3.

The accident sparked a fire that released dangerous smoke and gases into the community.

Meat factory fire

Some of the posts said the blaze happened at "Salumificio Coati", referring to an Italian firm that produces cure meats.

Keyword searches found the video in various reports and posts about a fire at Salumificio Coati's factory in Verona, Italy on February 9.

Italian newspaper Corriere del Veneto reported that about 300 employees were evacuated from the factory, and one person was injured after he jumped out of a window to escape the blaze.

VeronaSera newspaper published dramatic footage of the fire tearing through the front of the building where the firm's red Coati logo is printed.

Below is a screenshot comparison of the fire scene in the false posts (left) and a photo from the VeronaSera report (right):

Screenshot comparison of the fire scene in the false posts (left) and a photo from the VeronaSera report (right)

Below is a screenshot comparison of footage of the fire (left) that corresponds with Google Maps imagery of Salumificio Coati's factory (right):

Screenshot comparison of the false posts (left) and Google Maps Imagery (right)

The firm published a statement in which it said the cause of the fire was under investigation.

"We are also working to understand the causes of the fire," it said. "In this sense, we have full confidence in the investigations that the competent authorities are currently carrying out. A dutiful thanks goes to the fire brigade and the police who have given us support."

Following the blaze, authorities urged local residents to take precautions, such as wearing a mask and closing windows, amid health concerns.

But the Negrar municipality said on February 18 that air and water quality analysis indicated there was no increased health risk to the population.

It said: "The data collected in recent days is comforting: to date, the competent bodies have reported, the air quality parameters, which had never exceeded the guard limits as regards Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), even for PM10 (small particles) have re-established values detected in the entire Po Valley.

"As far as the water situation is concerned, the tests carried out by Arpav, Ulss and Acque Veronesi (local agencies) confirm that the groundwater does not currently present any anomalies or problems."

AFP has previously debunked several misleading claims related to the Ohio train derailment incident including here, here and here.

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