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Foul smell prompts evacuations

HUNDREDS of people were evacuated from the Zhangjiang Hi-Tech Park in Shanghai's Pudong New Area yesterday afternoon after workers illegally dumped buckets of a foul-smelling liquid, authorities said.

An undisclosed number of suspects were taken into custody after police and the Pudong Environmental Protection and Public Sanitation Bureau were called in to investigate the cause of the strong odor.

Police received reports of a suspected chemical leak around 2pm in Zhangjiang's "drug valley" area, which is home to more than 400 biotechnology and pharmaceutical plants. Police discovered that buckets containing 25 kilograms of the chemical ethanethiol had been dumped in a grassy area near the intersection of Libing and Aidisheng roads.

Record stench

According to the Chemistry Daily Website, ethanethiol is a colorless liquid that has a strong odor, resembling that of rotten eggs. The odor is familiar to people who use natural gas and propane for cooking and heating, as it is used as an additive to give those normally odorless fuels a distinctive smell. The Guinness Book Of World Records says ethanethiol is the smelliest substance in existence.

The chemical is toxic and in large doses will cause headaches, nausea and a lack of coordination, as well as liver and kidney damage.

A preliminary investigation found that the chemical had been left behind after the Shanghai Lengmu Chemical Engineering Co Ltd moved out of its facility on Cailun Road and a new company moved in. Workers who were unfamiliar with the chemical then dumped it in the green area, said police, who did not identify the new firm.

The area where the buckets were found was blocked off, and companies nearby began calling in shuttle buses and sending employees home.

Dai Huiqing, who works in the lab at the Shanghai Biochip Co on Libing Road, was told to leave at about 4pm.

"The smell was strong in the hallway," Dai told Shanghai Daily. "I thought it was a chemical leak."

The German software company SAP, located two blocks away from the spill, also evacuated its workers. The company e-mailed all employees and changed the schedule of its shuttle buses from 6:30pm to 4:30pm.

Dow Chemical Co, several blocks from the site, also sent its workers home early yesterday.


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