France hit by foul-smelling gas cloud

Tuesday 22 January 2013 22.20
The gas was non-toxic but had a strong, unpleasant smell
The gas was non-toxic but had a strong, unpleasant smell

A foul-smelling cloud of gas from a chemical factory has spread across parts of northern France, prompting scores of overnight calls to emergency services from fearful residents.

Officials at Lubrizol France, which makes additives for industrial lubricants and paint, said the sulphur-like smell was from a harmless additive in natural gas and said the company aimed to plug the leak during the day.

Paris police said in a statement the gas was Mercaptan, which it said was non-toxic but smelled like rotten eggs.

"It smells unpleasant because it's a gas we use to give an odour to natural gas," Pierre-Jean Payrouse, director of internal operations at Lubrizol France, told BFM television. "The problem should be resolved during the day."

Ohio-based Lubrizol, founded in 1928 and part of US conglomerate Berkshire Hathaway Inc since 2011, has production facilities in 19 countries.

The leak in France occurred yesterday morning at its plant near Rouen, 120km northwest of Paris, but wind blew the gas south, prompting Parisians to flood the emergency services with calls in the early hours of this morning, police said.

A local news website said the gas, which smelled like diesel fuel, had caused migraines, irritations and nausea among some residents of Rouen.

"We're working on resolving the situation," Lubrizol France spokeswoman Nathalie Bakaev told BFM. "But it's not toxic."