PARIS: France insists a major gas leak - whose stench hit millions, reached the shores of England and caused a major football match to be cancelled - is entirely harmless.
Headaches and nausea were among the complaints in calls made 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 on Monday at a Lubrizol plant.
Winds carried the foul-smelling invisible gas down the densely populated Seine valley to Paris and later northwards over the Channel and into Britain, 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 region said.
The offending odour came from a gas called methyl 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 executives hoped would be complete later on Tuesday.
Regional authorities ordered the postponement of a French Cup match in Rouen between the city's football team and Marseille on Tuesday evening.
Snow had already threatened the game - a sell-out - although a pitch inspection on Monday had led to the match being given the go-ahead before the gas leak.
Despite the official insistence that there was no danger, French social media was awash with people in the affected regions complaining of headaches and nausea from the gas.
''They're all saying not to panic but they said the same thing about the cloud from Chernobyl,'' said Patricia Cousteau, a Paris resident and mother-of-four, referring to radioactive fallout that spread across Europe in 1986 after an explosion at a Ukrainian nuclear plant.