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November 25, 2010

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Refinery toxic gas leak 'posed no danger,' city officials insist

FOUL-SMELLING air that concerned residents in the city's Pudong New Area and Yangpu and Hongkou districts late Tuesday was not harmful to people's health, the municipal government insisted yesterday.

Officials blamed the smell on a gas leak on Tuesday afternoon from an oil refinery belonging to the Shanghai Gaoqiao Petrochemical Co in Pudong's Waigaoqiao area.

This was found to contain toxic ethanethiol, according to the official statement. The ethanethiol dissipated safely into the atmosphere at around 4pm, said officials.

However, the pungent smell lingered around the factory until 9:30pm.

It disappeared late that night, said Cai Weimin, an official with the Shanghai Administration of Work Safety. "And there were no more reports of the smell from residents yesterday."

However, Cai said he did not know what caused the leak and how the problem was solved.

The official statement released yesterday also said that an investigation is under way.

An insider from the administration told Shanghai Daily yesterday that refinery facilities were undergoing an annual check and clean on Tuesday. Normally residue substances are removed before vessels can be cleaned. He speculated that ethanethiol might have been exposed directly to the air during the cleaning process.

Ethanethiol has a strong smell, resembling leeks or onions.

Fan Kangnian, a chemistry professor with Fudan University, said it is very pungent, even in small quantities. "It can have negative effects on both humans and the environment."

Exposure to ethanethiol can lead to headaches, nausea, breathing difficulties or vomiting.

Zhang Qi, a salesman who lives near the site, said he did not notice any smell. "It was late when I came home and the smell had already gone."

In September 2008, 300 kilograms of liquid herbicide leaked from the Shanghai Pesticide Factory in Pudong New Area. Two people were rushed to hospital after inhaling fumes.


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