RESIDENTS were urged not to panic after a smell of gas wafting over the county yesterday sparked safety scares.
The whiff was coming from a French chemical company 200 miles away – but was enough for Kinson Primary School in Bournemouth to send children home early for fear it had a gas leak on site. Emergency services were bombarded with calls reporting a foul smell like rotten eggs from around 1pm.
As we reported yesterday, Dorset Fire and Rescue Service took around a dozen calls from concerned residents, many of whom had struggled to get through to the Transco emergency number, which was inundated by alarmed residents. Gas company Transco had thousands.
Some people even reported feeling dizzy after breathing in the foul air.
One Daily Echo reader said: “Smelt it around 1.50pm walking up East Way hill and felt really dizzy for around five minutes, not nice.”
However, the Health Protection Agency insisted the smell drifting across the English Channel posed no risk to public health.
Parents at Kinson Primary were texted at around 2.45pm to ask them to collect children early.
A spokesman for Bournemouth council said: “The decision to evacuate the school was made following advice from Southern Gas Networks. Southern Gas Networks wanted to attend the school in order to rule out a gas leak on site, which they have now done. The evacuation of pupils was a precautionary measure to ensure the children’s safety.”
The council’s health and safety team also received concerned calls from St Katherine’s School and King’s Park Primary School. They were informed that the smell posed no risk.
The unpleasant odour was reported across southern England after the leak at a chemical factory in Rouen, 75 miles west of Paris. Strong winds blew the foul-smelling gas, called Mercaptan, across the channel yesterday following the leak on Monday.
French officials said the concentration of the gas leaked from the Lubrizol factory was “very low”.
A statement issued by the Seine-Maritime prefecture said: “The gas has an unpleasant smell but is not toxic.”
The odour is caused by a particularly smelly chemical that is added to odourless natural gas to give that its characteristic smell.
Livio Ferrone, of Warnford Road, Bournemouth, said: “I spent 45 minutes trying to get through to British gas to report the smell of gas along our road. I eventually tried the ‘Do you want a new boiler?’ telephone number and was told the gas cloud from France was passing over, thus the smell.”
A Dorset Fire and Rescue Spokesman said: “We’ve take numerous calls which we believe are related to this massive plume in France. Transco are aware and have taken thousands of calls about it as well.
“If the smell of gas is coming from outside your home, please shut your windows and doors. In all probability it is related to this French chemical escape.
“Calls need to go through to Transco in the first instance, as there is little we can do.”
Fire crews were dispatched to Mill Lane, Christchurch, yesterday afternoon, to check on the stink.
The Health Protection Agency said: “The chemical leak 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.”