Eastbourne MP questions Minister over unresolved Birling Gap toxic haze incident

A yellow mist descended over Birling Gap ;ast summer. Photo Eddie Mitchell
A yellow mist descended over Birling Gap ;ast summer. Photo Eddie Mitchell

Eastbourne’s MP met with a Minister over the mysterious and unresolved case of the noxious haze that appeared at Birling Gap last summer.

A major incident was declared as between 150-200 people rushed to hospital complaining of symptoms such as burning eyes, nausea, and difficulty breathing after a strange mist appeared in the area and spread along the coast on August 27.

More than 150 casualties were treated at the DGH as a major incident was declared

More than 150 casualties were treated at the DGH as a major incident was declared

Stephen Lloyd MP met with Therese Coffey MP, the Minister responsible for examining the emergency service’s reactions to the gas.

The MP has been continuing to press the government to provide more details about the possible sources and nature of the gas cloud, as well as seeking reassurances that, were it to happen again, the emergency services would be better able to both assist affected members of the public as well as store the gas securely so that its identity can be confirmed.

He said, “This has been a very long, drawn out process and there have been times where it’s a bit like trying to find a needle in a haystack.

“None of the emergency services had the appropriate equipment to collect, store and identify the gas or accurately identify from where it came.

Eastbourne's MP Stephen Lloyd is fighting for answers

Eastbourne's MP Stephen Lloyd is fighting for answers

“And, after many weeks of being told that the field was being narrowed down to one of the possible 180 ships in the vicinity at the time, I learned the Maritime and Coastguard Agency that as they didn’t know what they were looking for, weren’t able to properly pinpoint the culprit!

“I find both of these outcomes worrying because though we did ‘get away with it’ this time, with the 150 or so members of the public who presented themselves to the A&E department at the DGH fully recovering, can you imagine the appalling consequences if one or more had been permanently injured or even, god forbid, died?”

He added, “I have been pressing for answers from the Minister around what lessons have been learned and for DEFRA, the responsible department, to provide the necessary equipment capable of storing such a noxious haze in future.

“From the meeting I got a commitment that the department, and all the relevant emergency services, will be conducting a substantial exercise this summer to stress-test their response mechanisms to see how they stack up were a second major incident to occur.

“The Minister, and her scientific advisors, did make a point of saying that they felt this was very unlikely. However, they agreed with me that all precautionary steps must be taken.

“She also gave me an undertaking that they would explore the availability of equipment that could robustly collect and measure future haze incidents even if there were only very slight traces in the atmosphere.”

The MP went on, “This was a major incident that still remains, fundamentally, unresolved and I will continue to monitor DEFRA’s efforts in this area.

“They have agreed to keep me updated with the results of the emergency services’ exercise which will be conducted in a few months and I’ll keep residents in Eastbourne and Willingdon informed.”

Click here to read more about the report into the haze, and here to see a local MEP’s reaction to it.