Pong from French gas leak reaches UK

France insisted Tuesday that a major gas leak - whose stench hit millions, reached the shores of England and caused a major soccer match to be cancelled - was entirely harmless.

Pong from French gas leak reaches UK
The city of Rouen, in Normandy. Photo: Frédéric Bisson

Headaches and nausea were among the complaints in calls made overnight to emergency lines in Paris by more than 10,000 people worried by the stench of rotten eggs that had invaded their streets and homes.

But France's Ecology Minister Delphine Batho, who cut short an official trip to Berlin to rush to the site of the leak at a chemical plant in the picturesque city of Rouen in Normandy, said there was no health risk.

The leak began early Monday at a Lubrizol plant.

Winds carried the foul-smelling invisible gas down the densely-populated Seine river valley to Paris, and later northwards over the Channel and into England, where it even reached south London.

"South Kent residents are being asked to keep doors and windows closed due to a gas cloud that is believed to have come across from France," the fire and
rescue service in the southeastern English region said.

The offending odour came from a gas called mercaptan, which, among other uses, is added to municipal gas because its sulphurous smell alerts people to gas leaks.

The Lubrizol plant, which makes additives for industrial lubricants and paint, shut down production as they battled to plug the leak which company executives hoped would be done later Tuesday.

Regional authorities ordered the postponement of a French Cup tie match in Rouen between the city's football team and Marseille on Tuesday evening.

"We didn't want to be in a situation where we have 10,000 spectators two kilometres away from the plant without any capacity for confining or evacuating them if that were necessary," said senior local official Florence Gouache.

Snow had already threatened the game — a sellout — although a pitch inspection on Monday had led to the match being given the go-ahead prior to the gas leak.

Despite the official insistence that there was no danger, French social media were awash with people in the affected regions complaining of headaches and nausea from the gas that smelled like rotten eggs.

"They're all saying not to panic, but they said the same thing about the cloud from Chernobyl," said mother-of-four Patricia Cousteau, referring to radioactive fallout that spread across Europe in 1986 after an explosion at a Ukrainian nuclear plant.

Authorities said in an earlier statement that a chemical substance at the Lubrizol plant became unstable and caused odours that are similar to those of town gas."The gas has an unpleasant smell but is not toxic," it said.

The concentration of the gas was also "very low", the statement said, adding that "a large number of people have been inconvenienced".

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Why is a British D-Day memorial in Normandy so controversial?

French President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Theresa May on Thursday launched the construction of a new British memorial in Normandy in tribute to the thousands of British soldiers who died in the invasion on June 6, 1944. But why is it so controversial?

Why is a British D-Day memorial in Normandy so controversial?
Macron and May inaugurated the memorial (pictured above) on June 6th 2019, 75 years since the Normandy Landings.
Macron looked beyond the current tensions with Britain over Brexit on Thursday as he paid tribute to the neighbours' shared history and “common future” on the 75th anniversary of D-Day at Ver-sur-Mer where the two leaders launched the construction by laying the first brick.   
“Whatever it takes, we will always stand together because it's our common destiny,” Macron said in English at commemorations with British Prime Minister Theresa May in northern France.
In front of a handful of veterans of the 1944 invasion, May praised their courage.
“Standing here as the waves wash quietly onto the shore below us, it's almost impossible to grasp the raw courage it must have taken that day to leap from landing craft and into the surf, despite the fury of battle,” she said.
But despite the warm words exchanged between the two leaders, the feeling of solidarity is not shared by everyone. 

In fact, a heated debate has been brewing in the small Normandy village of Ver-sur-Mer, the village which was once the site of one of the most pivotal days in 20th century war history, the Normandy Landings.

Back in January, just six months away from the inauguration deadline, the memorial site had yet to be authorised. 

So, why is the memorial the source of so much controversy?

Photo: AFP

The opposition comes from a handful of Ver-sur-Mer’s residents, who feel their commune shouldn’t have been chosen as the memorial site as they fear it will mean their protected, agricultural land is turfed over and destroyed.

“It's not that we’re not grateful to the English, we will be until the end of time for everything they did,” Maxi Krause, a local resident who organized an opposition march made up of just three protesters to “inform the public”, told France 3 in January.

“There’s already the British cemetery in Bayeux, with a huge grassy area all around it where they could add the engraved names (of British soldiers that would be honoured in the prospective Ver-sur-Mer site).”

Opponents to the memorial, which will cost in the region of €33 m, are equally apprehensive about the planned construction of a car park for visitors and the sale of their municipal stadium to be incorporated into the memorial site, a project which in total is budgeted at €20 million, all paid for by British taxpayers.

Also of concern to them is that the memorial bus routes will go through their village rather than bypassing it, bringing with it more traffic and commotion but not necessarily more money, as visitors will only be on short stays.

British association Normandy Memorial Trust was entrusted with buying the land in Ver-sur-Mer to honour the 20,000 British soldiers who disembarked on the beaches of Normandy on June 6th 1944.

Not all opponents are completely against a memorial being erected, but most feel the location should be changed.

D-day, the largest seaborne invasion in history, saw as many as 19,000 troops on both sides die during the landings.

French words to know:

Le Jour J: D-day

ériger : erect/put up

le débarquement: landing

reconnaissant: grateful

l'échéance: delivery date

appréhensif: apprehensive 

gazonner: turf over

une site classé: protected area

les riverains: residents

contourner: bypass