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Agencies investigate Sussex coastal gas cloud

An investigation is being conducted into the cause of a gas cloud which appeared along the Sussex coast on Sunday, and caused around 150 people to seek medical treatment.

The Environment Agency and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency are leading the investigation into the cause and composition of the cloud, which was described as a ‘haze’ drifting in from the sea at Birling Gap, near Eastbourne, at around 5pm on Sunday (27 August).

The gas cloud accumulated at Birling Gap on the Sussex coastline on Sunday evening (27 August)

According to Sussex Police, residents had reported irritation in their eyes and throats as the plume of gas moved eastwards along the coastline. Long queues were reported at Eastbourne General District Hospital as people affected by the cloud sought medical assistance.

East Sussex Healthcare Trust has confirmed that patients were dealt with as a precaution with a full decontamination treatment, but it later became clear that this was not necessary, following clinical advice.

The cloud had dissipated by Monday morning, with an operation now underway to assess the cause of the incident.

Investigation

In a statement, Sussex Police said: “Agencies, including the Maritime and Coastguard agency and the Environment Agency, are continuing to investigate a gas cloud that affected hundreds of people along the coast of East Sussex on Sunday afternoon (August 27).

“Neither the gas nor its source have been established but the cloud has now dissipated and advice to keep windows and doors closed has now been withdrawn.

“Anyone still suffering the effects are advised by Public Health England to irrigate their eyes if they are irritated and to wash any other irritated areas with plenty of soap and water.”

Richard O’Callaghan, Duty Manager at the Environment Agency, confirmed that the Agency is investigating the incident, noting that a cause has yet to be established. Investigations are expected to take several days.

He said: “We are currently investigating any potential onshore sources of the pollution. To date we have not identified anything that could be attributed to the mist. We are liaising with Maritime and Coastguard Agency who are doing similar investigations offshore.”

A spokesman for the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, added: “Investigations are still continuing. Some of these investigations may take several days to conclude. We have no further information at this stage.”

Commenting on the response to the incident, Councillor David Tutt, leader of Eastbourne council, said: “I would like to thank our partners from the various emergency services for their professionalism and expertise. There were a large number of people affected on Sunday and the speed of the response clearly helped limit the scale of the problem.  Eastbourne District General Hospital deserve great credit for treating so many people very quickly and effectively.

“I am also grateful to the members of the public who left the beaches in such an orderly and responsible manner.

“It is now important that the source of the problem is identified to ensure there is no repetition.  The Maritime and Coastguard Agency is the lead agency on the response and the council will provide them with its full support.”

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