France's highest honour was refused by a top researcher and campaigner on industrial health issues. The refusal was made in protest over an official inaction over what she described as "industrial crimes" in this sector.
Annie Thebaud-Mony, director of research at France's National Institute for Health and Medical Research, turned down the "Legion d'Honneur" in a letter to Housing Minister Cecile Duflot made public on Saturday.
Thebaud-Mony has written award-winning books on industrial health and is the spokeswoman for Ban Asbestos France.
In her letter, she said she wanted to "challenge the impunity that until now has protected those who carry out industrial crimes".
Thebaud-Mony said she was particularly concerned that the current economic crisis was eclipsing issues concerning workers' health and the environment.
"My act is intended as a call for citizens, but also for parliament to act, for the respect of basic rights to life, health and dignity," she said in her letter to the ministry, dated July 31.
"We want to be taken seriously when we expose the deterioration of working conditions ... the drama of workplace accidents and occupational diseases...," she added.
She denounced what she said was a misguided debate over the issue of safe levels of certain toxic substances.
Public officials have to take a stand against the threat that these substances pose, if necessary taking legal action against the offenders, she argued.
Thebaud-Mony said that her own career had suffered for years because of her work.
She called on the government to secure the jobs of young researchers working in the field of industrial health, in particular those investigating cancer-causing materials in the workplace.