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New Orleans stench may be linked to refinery leak: Coast Guard

By Sabina Zawadzki

(Reuters) - A "rank" odor that has spread across parts of greater New Orleans may be linked to a leak from the 192,500-barrel-per-day Chalmette refinery, the U.S. Coast Guard investigating the smell said on Thursday.

Chalmette, a joint venture between Exxon Mobil Corp and Venezuela's national oil company Petroleos de Venezuela SA (PDVSA), reported a leak early Wednesday morning but it had been quickly contained at the plant, the Coast Guard said.

"Chalmette Refinery has worked with (the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality) and Coast Guard response teams most of the day to survey and evaluate all potential sources of odors in the area," the Coast Guard said.

"The facility reported and quickly stopped a leak early Wednesday morning and, while the investigation is still ongoing, officials currently believe it could be the source of the odor," it said in a statement.

Exxon Mobil did not immediately respond to questions.

Lieutenant Lily Zeteza of the Coast Guard's district eight public affairs office said the leaked substance was sour water -- waste water coming from the refining process which usually contains hydrogen sulfide and ammonia.

"We haven't told the refinery to shut down because we haven't any cause for a shutdown," Zeteza said. "We've no indication that this is dangerous."

Residents in the suburban Jefferson and St Bernard parishes variously reported smells of burnt rubber, cockroach spray or rancid, rank and pungent odors, according to the iWitness Pollution Map web site, a Louisiana-based organization. Some residents said the odor was so strong it woke them up.

Others complained of headaches and scratchy throats.

"It's just a smell that you know is not typical New Orleans," Zeteza said.

(Reporting by Sabina Zawadzki; Editing by Bob Burgdorfer)

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