French chemical leak prompts calls to emergency services as 'le pong' wafts over UK

The factory in Rouen where the gas originated
The factory in Rouen where the gas originated Photo: EBU

A foul-smelling cloud of gas which wafted over to parts of the south east from a chemical factory in France prompted calls to emergency services.

The gas mercaptan was accidentally released from a factory in the northern city of Rouen travelled across the English Channel early this morning.

People in Kent, Sussex, Surrey and parts of London reported the unpleasant aroma but emergency services said the gas was harmless and presented no danger to the public.

  • Sussex Police said they had received more than 25 calls by 9.15am
  • Surrey had 15 calls by 11.30am
  • Kent Police reportedly had a large number of calls

Mercaptan is added to natural gas so that it can be smelled and so alert people to gas leaks, among other uses.

ITV News reporter Damon Green on what became known as 'le pong':

Across the south of England emergency services took to Twitter to reassure people that the gas posed no safety risk:

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Listen carefully I shall say zis in only 140 characters; we attended 42 calls today due to the French gas cloud over London #alloallo

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We are aware of reports of a strong noxious gas like smell in some South East London boroughs - no risks to public

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Looks like #France #gas smell ranges from Chesil beach to Bournemouth. It's not harmful, but please contact Transco if you want advice

Later in the day the smell was reported to have reached as far west as Dorset.

Emergency services and gas agencies have received many calls from members of the public today reporting the smell of gas. This appears to be strongest across the coastal towns of Dorset and other southern counties.

The smell may be linked to a large release of gas stenching agent (Mercaptan) in France which appears to have crossed the channel on strong easterly winds.

– DORSET POLICE STATEMENT

Twitter was full of people talking about the strange smell:

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Was wondering why I can smell gas when we don't have a gas supply here. So the French have sent it over!? Well it's giving me a headache...

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Smell of gas in #HaywardsHeath today, apparently originating from a gas leak in France