French Stench; Foul-Smelling Mercaptan Gas Causing Stink Across Europe

By iScienceTimes Staff on January 22, 2013 3:39 PM EST

foul smelling cloud
A cloud of stinky gas leaked form a French factory and is now stinking up a 200 mile area. (Photo: Reuters)

A French stench is funking up the air in southeast England, the result of a chemical leak from a factory in France more than 200 miles away. The French stench is a foul-smelling cloud made of mercaptan, also known as methanethiol, an additive used in natural gas because its sulphurous smell enables gas leaks to be detected. The French stench is nauseating residents, who have been calling emergency services by the thousands to report the stench.

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The National Grid, which would normally deal with up to 10,000 calls countrywide in a day, was inundated with more than 100,000 calls by 2 p.m. Tuesday reporting the French stench. A spokesman said it was an "unprecedented" volume. England's Health Protection Agency issued the following statement to residents:

"The smell drifting over southern England poses no risk to public health. The odour, which is similar to rotten eggs, has been noticed by people mainly in Kent, East and West Sussex and some parts of Surrey," said the HPA. "It is caused by a particularly smelly chemical that is added to odourless natural gas to give that its characteristic smell. 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."

Local emergency personnel are taking to Twitter to assuage public fears about the French stench.

London's Metropolitan Police tweeted: "We are aware of reports of a strong, noxious, gas-like smell in some South East London boroughs. No risks to public."

London Fire Brigade tweeted: "We've been called to 25 gas incidents since 10.30am. The rotten egg smell is coming from France but has no risk to public #zutalors"

A report on the Kent Fire and Rescue Service website attributed the smell to the French stench.

It said: "South Kent residents are being asked to keep doors and windows closed due to a gas cloud that is believed to have come across from France, following reports of a gas leak from a factory 75 miles west of Paris."

The French stench stretches all the way from Paris to London and a spokesman from Lubrizol France, the company that owns the factory the gas is leaking from, said the French stench has spread across a 200 mile area but should dissipate by Tuesday evening. The cause of the leak is still unknown.

The French stench is no laughing matter, a French Cup soccer match between Rouen and Olympique Marseille is being postponed due to the stink. If it's strong enough to interrupt soccer, the French stench must be pungent indeed.

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