The Sussex coast experienced its third similar incident in 2 years this past weekend. Beach goers in Worthing were evacuated last Sunday after a number of people reported having sore eyes whilst enjoying the morning on the beach. The seafront was temporarily closed and people were told to keep away from the area and to close doors and windows. Initial reports from the Maritime and Coastguard Agency in the following days have suggested the source of the irritant could have come from cargo vessels in the channel or old munitions ships that were sunk during World War One and Two.

This incident has occurred 2 years to the month since a chemical haze drifted over Birling Gap, close to Eastbourne, which resulted in around 150 people attending hospital as a result of vomiting, breathing difficulties, sore throats and suffering stinging eyes. No source was ever confirmed, however it was suspected it was most likely from a passing ship or lost cargo in the English Channel.

A second such incident was reported shortly after on Friday 27th of October of 2017 some 2 months after the Eastbourne haze occurred, when residents of Seaford complained of feeling sick and stinging eyes. No connection was established by Sussex Police or the Local Authority between these events but resident testimony including the description of smelling like ‘burning plastic’ and ‘stinging eyes’ were common themes.

Although the scale of this recent event was not of that from August 2017, it raises a number of concerns for coastal residents who are left wondering whether this will happen again. Aside from those living by the sea, the highly populated Sussex coast is a magnet for tourists in the summer months with towns and cities such as Brighton attracting thousands of visitors who could unknowingly exposed to further such occurrences.

It is plausible that a chemical works in Rouen, northern France could be to blame with historical accounts indicating this was the source of a gas cloud and resulting odour of rotten eggs back in 2013 when much of Kent and Sussex reported these effects. However, a review of atmospheric conditions and weather patterns from the dates of these recent events and those of last weekend show no obvious consistency between the incidents and it is unlikely this source would have led to such a concentrated area of impact.

Whatever the cause, if you are planning to make the most of the last weeks of summer, it might be wise to pack your sun cream, beach towel and gas mask when heading to the beach.

Tom Venables
Senior Consultant

You may also be interested in

How are we doing?

We aim to deliver the best service possible, so please take a moment to click on our feedback link and let us know how you think we're doing.