Mistake leaves parts of North Carolina city with foul odor

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Parts of North Carolina’s largest city were overcome with a foul smell like rotten eggs on Thursday after an environmental cleanup company destroyed tanks that contained a harmless gas odorant, a natural gas company says.

Piedmont Natural Gas said the cleanup company, Legacy Environmental Services, was destroying mercaptan tanks north of downtown Charlotte that were mistakenly reported as empty, The Charlotte Observer reported.

The Charlotte Fire Department said four storage tanks were involved.

Because natural gas has no smell, Piedmont uses mercaptan — also known as methanethiol — to give the gas “a distinctive smell of rotten eggs,” the utility said in a news release.

A temperature inversion likely spread the smell, city officials said. An inversion happens as air temperature increases with altitude and traps smells closer to the ground, according to the National Weather Service.

Piedmont spokesman Jason Wheatley said the utility did not hire the Charlotte company. He referred other questions to Legacy, which didn’t immediately return a phone call seeking comment on Thursday.

The Environmental Protection Agency has been notified about the leak, according to Charlotte Fire.

The odor prompted an evacuation at the county courthouse, according to the Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office. The county also closed several offices early because of what was described as a “heavy natural gas odor.”

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