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French factory leak leads to odour in south England

The Health Protection Agency says the rotting egg smell, caused by the gas mercaptan, poses no risk to public health

A gas leak at a chemicals factory in north-west France has caused an unpleasant odour to drift across the channel to south-east England.

According to the UK Health Protection Agency (HPA), the smell, which has been compared to rotting eggs, poses no risk to public health in England.

A gas leak at a factory in Rouen, France, has caused an unpleasant odour to drift over to the south of England

The sulphurous smell poses no risk to public health in England, according to the Health Protection Agency

The smell has affected areas in Hampshire Kent, East and West Sussex and areas of Surrey, where residents first began complaining of a sulphurous odour yesterday (January 22).

The discharge of mercaptan, which is an additive to natural gas, leaked on Monday (January 21), from the Lubrizol plant in Rouen which makes additives for industrial lubricants and paint. In a statement, Lubrizol said it was “deeply sorry for any inconvenienceâ€?.

Operations at the factory have been temporarily suspended while attempts are made to stop the leak, which has reportedly caused headaches and nausea in areas of northern France.

The leak also caused a French Cup football match between Rouen and Marseille to be postponed on Tuesday night.

An HPA statement said: “The chemical leaked from a factory in Rouen, France yesterday and has blown across the Channel overnight. It is not toxic and has also been diluted before entering the air over England, so people should be reassured it will cause no harm. It is an unpleasant odour which may cause some people to feel slightly nauseous but it will dispel naturally.â€?

The London Fire Brigade has also revealed on its Twitter account that it had received a number of complaints about the gas smell in the capital. It said (@LondonFire) yesterday: “Smell from France update: We’ve had 38 gas incidents since 10.30am, 5 times higher than we had for the whole of yesterday #mondieuâ€?.

In a statement, the Lubrizol Corporation said: “At approximately 8am local time on Monday, January 21, we detected instability with a batch of one of our products at our plant in Rouen, France. The resulting unpleasant smell is caused by mercaptan, which is a non-toxic compound at the quantities involved. This is the same substance commonly used to give natural gas a detectable smell. Neutralizing the mercaptan smell is a slow process, and the unpleasant smell can linger until the process is complete.

“We are fully aware that the smell has been detected beyond our property, and we are deeply sorry for any inconvenience. Plant operations have been temporarily suspended, and our teams continue to work in close cooperation with local authorities to stop the smell as quickly as possible.

“Protecting our employees, communities in which we operate, the environment and customers is fundamental to our business. We are investigating the incident, working with local authorities to determine an exact cause and identify any needed corrective actions.â€?

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Peter Apps
Peter Apps
8 years ago

Is there an estimate of the quantities involved and the release rate ?

Peter Apps