Mysterious Toxic Haze Swept Southern England, And No One Knows What It Was

The beach is popular with sunbathers, and was busy when the gas swept the area

The beach is popular with sunbathers, and was busy when the gas swept the area. Teresa Neal/Shutterstock

This weekend saw a mysterious chemical cloud sweep the southern coast of England, causing over 150 people to be admitted to hospital with symptoms ranging from coughing, vomiting, irritated eyes and throat. The strange event led to authorities warning members of the public not to go outside and to keep windows closed. Two days later, and it is still uncertain what actually caused the toxic fog.

As people descended on the beaches of East Sussex, on the southern English coast, on one of the hottest days of the year, a visible smog appeared from across the water. Hitting people at Birling Gap, the mild wind blew it east along the coast, prompting the emergency services to warn others of steering clear of the area, as those affected by the haze were treated.


When news first filtered through to the authorities about the mysterious haze sweeping the coast, emergency response units were scrambled. Decontamination units were set up, with all people who were affected by the gas having to be cleaned and treated, as professionals prepared for the worst by fully suiting up. Within a few hours, however, the smog had cleared and the beaches were deemed safe enough for people to use again.


There has been a lot of confusion has to what the mysterious haze may have been. It has been described by some of those affected as “smelling like burned plastic” while others have recounted that it was a “colourless, odourless mist”. The emergency services were describing it as a “chemical incident”, as some of those involved thought it may have been chlorine gas, although the police have now ruled that one out.  

At first, it was suggested that industrial plants on the other side of the English Channel in France were to blame, as a similar event had occurred in the past, but this has since been discounted as the wind was not blowing in the right direction for it to have traveled from the continent.


The local water works have issued a statement saying that there was no unplanned discharges in the region that may have led to the toxic haze. “All our sites in the area are constantly monitored and everything is working normally,” a spokesperson told The Guardian, before adding that they don’t use chlorine at these sites, either.


Other have suggested that perhaps an algal bloom may have been to blame, as the favorable weather condition on the day may have encouraged the organisms to release large volumes of irritable gas.

Still, no one actually knows what caused the bizarre incident, and as the gas has already cleared and shows no sign of returning, it seems that perhaps it may not actually be resolved.


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