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France

Factory leak nauseates northern France

A gas leak smelling like rotten eggs has alarmed residents across northern France. Authorities said the vapor was harmless, though emergency phone lines were inundated with complaints of nausea and headaches.

The operators of the Lubrizol factory in Rouen in Normandy said Tuesday it was within hours of plugging the leak. The odor reached Paris, 120 kilometers (75 miles) away.

The invisible gas, mercaptan, is a colorless additive used in natural gas because its sulphurous smell enables gas leaks to be detected. Lubrizol France said the invisible odor came from decomposing product.

London police said the acrid smell has also reached southeast of the British capital. Britain's National Grid safety agency said it was experiencing a large volume of calls querying the odor, as did smaller gas providers across southeast England.

Soccer march postponed

The French Football Federation (FFF) said a French Cup soccer match between Rouen and Olympique Marseille would be postponed, partly because of the stink. Snow had already put the match in doubt.

Despite official reassurance that the leaking vapor was not dangerous, local radio reported that residents in Rouen had complained of migraines, irritations and nausea.

French local authorities said a chemical substance at the Lubrizol plant had become unstable.

"The gas has an unpleasant smell but is not toxic," they said. Its concentration was "very low", but added that "a large number of people have been inconvenienced".

French Ecology Minister Delphine Batho said she was rushing back home from a special cabinet trip to Germany to oversee operations in Rouen.

ipj/msh (AFP, Reuters)