Worthing beach gas leak

Materials World magazine
13 Aug 2019

The cause of a chemical leak at Worthing beach in south England, UK, may never be known, according to the national coastguard. 

On Sunday 11 August, visitors to Worthing beach were exposed to toxic fumes and quickly became unwell, with sore eyes and wretching. While most people were unharmed, around 12 experienced vomiting and severe irritation to eyes and skin, and two were admitted to hospital but later discharged.  

Sussex police described the event as an airborne ‘hazardous material incident’ and evacuated the beach and pier, and closed a two-mile stretch along the promenade. Emergency services advised people to go home, shower and wash their clothes, and to keep doors and windows shut. 

The police later released a statement that said its inquiries had not uncovered a cause and that it had closed the matter. 

An investigation has been initiated by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency’s (MCA) Counter Pollution and Salvage Branch, in conjunction with the Environment Agency and the Worthing local authority. 

‘At this time we do not know the source and the MCA is investigating if the source could have been from a vessel. The MCA is also looking at weather patterns and vessel movements to establish if there were any vessels in the area that were capable of carrying a gas or could have cargo tanks which could have been venting at the time,’ said an MCA spokesperson. 

While MCA is investigating the routes of passing vessels, Worthing locals and the national media have been speculating that a sunken shipwreck could have corroded and released toxic gases into the air. This is largely due to similar gas incidents at Birling Gap in 2017 and in the North Sea in May 2019, and the English Channel being frequented by cargo and munitions ships during WWI and WWII. MCA has not commented on the likelihood of this and the investigation is ongoing.