Mon dieu! Le Pong gets up Eastbourne’s noses

Gas escape in France, the smell is discovered on Eastbourne seafront. January 22nd 2013 E04079P'Grace and Chris Cole from Polegate.
Gas escape in France, the smell is discovered on Eastbourne seafront. January 22nd 2013 E04079P'Grace and Chris Cole from Polegate.

Eastbourne woke up to a strong smell of gas on Tuesday morning (January 22) following a leak in France - some 100 miles away - leading to 100,000 emergency calls.

The pong was down to a gas leak in a chemical plant near Rouen in Normandy, which had drifted across the Channel. Some in Eastbourne described a smell of gas, diesel or even rotten eggs as a result.

While it left an unpleasant smell, the public was reassured it was not toxic. At the same time, thousands of residents were calling the fire service and National Grid’s emergency line to report gas leaks. The emergency line for National Grid received 100,000 calls - 90,000 up on an average day. A spokesperson from National Grid described it as an ‘unprecedented amount of calls’ but stressed it was still important they did not miss any genuine gas emergencies.

East Sussex Fire & Rescue Service also received several calls from concerned members of the public.

Neal Robinson, duty officer for the fire service, said, “It appears that a large quantity of Mercaptan (the chemical introduced as a stenching agent to natural gas) has been released from a factory in France. The cloud first travelled south, but has now travelled north and arrived in Sussex.

“Members of the public can be reassured that although the gas has an unpleasant smell, there is no danger to the public.”

The smell caused some to feel nauseous and suffer from migraines, especially those closest to the leak.

The Health Protection Agency became involved and issued a statement which also aimed to reassure the public.

A spokesperson from the Health Protection Agency said, “The smell drifting over Southern England today 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.

“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, on Monday 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.”

The smell faded throughout the day and had gone by the following day.

National Grid took the opportunity to remind people to call the national emergency number on 0800 111 999, if they ever smell gas in their homes.