Vive ‘Le Pong!’: Foul French Smell Prompts Emergency Response

A cloud of gas with nauseating odor escaped from a factory in northern France causing dozens of emergency calls from residents in the area and southeast England.

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The office of French Interior Minister Manuel Valls reassured residents that the foul stench lingering in the air Tuesday was harmless.

Residents from the outskirts of Paris to southeast England were in a panic Tuesday when they got a waft of a foul-smelling cloud of gas from a factory in northern France prompting dozens of emergency calls.

France’s Interior Ministry released a statement saying the methyl mercaptan gas escaping from the Rouen chemical factory is harmless, reported the Huffington Post.

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Methyl mercaptan isn’t a health risk, but can smell like reeking rotten cabbage, eggs, or garlic, and is deliberately designed to be pungent to the nostrils, according to the British newspaper the Telegraph.

The chemical can be found in feces and some cheeses, and can cause headaches and nausea, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  Those symptoms were described by a number of people in France on Tuesday, reported the New York Times.

However, authorities reassured residents that there was no need to worry.  Police in the coastal English town of Hastings sent out a tweet to set the record straight using the hashtag “#noneedtopanic,” and letting citizens know they were likely smelling the mercaptan from Rouen.


The London Fire Brigade also went to Twitter to inform their followers of the smell, its origin, and that it had no risk to the public.  Their take on the situation:“#zutalors.”One of their tweets said they had received five times more calls about potential gas leaks before 10:30 a.m. Tuesday than they took all of the day before.


The plant in the northern city of Rouen is owned by Lubrizol, a subsidiary of Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, according to the Huffington Post.

The Interior Ministry asked residents of the areas affected not to contact emergency services because of the lack of danger the odor posed, reported the Huffington Post.

Mercaptan leaks in France have happened before — about 50 similar ones in the past 25 years, according to the New York Times.

The French Cup football game between Rouen and Marseille, which was set for Tuesday evening, was postponed because of the foul smell, according to BBC News.

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