Police are urging people to avoid beaches and keep doors and windows closed after an “unknown haze” was reported in Sussex.
Up to 50 people at Birling Gap, near Eastbourne, initially reported irritation to their eyes and throats, Sussex Police said, and health authorities later confirmed 233 people are being treated in hospital.
Emergency services have cleared the area and told people living along the coast from Eastbourne to Birling Gap to avoid beaches and shut their windows and doors.
The force said:
“A ‘haze’ that is causing discomfort for people along the coast from Eastbourne to Birling Gap has prompted emergency services to warn people to stay away from the beaches and to keep doors and windows closed if living near the coast.
“The first report came from Birling Gap just before 5pm on Sunday (August 27) where up to 50 people had been affected by irritation to eyes and throats.
“This seems to have been caused by an unknown haze coming in from the sea, but the source has not yet been established.
“Emergency services are treating people at Birling Gap and clearing the area. People living along the coast in the area have been advised to keep doors and windows shut and to move away from the Birling Gap area in particular.”
Dawn Whittaker, an East Sussex fire rescue officer, said there were “many casualties”.
She said: “Public warned to avoid Birling Gap area as emergency services dealing with potential environmental issue.”
Witness Mark Battershill told Sky News:
“The haze is pretty bad - it’s coming in.
“Eyes are streaming, I’m at home now with my family, we’re all sitting here and the tears keep running, stinging eyes, sore throats.”
He was at Eastbourne’s harbour when the haze came in off the sea: “The haze started to come in and I was speaking to a colleague of mine and said ‘my eyes are really streaming’.
“I looked around and he was the same and we’re all saying ‘what is this?’
“I came home and I walked through, and my wife had the same thing, my five-year-old daughter she had the same problem, my son as well.”
Many on social media were reporting the haze was spreading.
The RNLI said that “possibly some kind of gaseous fumes” had drifted over the scene and a significant number of people on cliff tops had been struck down with symptoms including irritation, sore eyes and vomiting.
A spokesman said: “We have been checking along the shoreline to try and ensure that everyone is safe.”
He said a “plume” had drifted across the area bringing “some sort of substance” with it which seemed to affect a number of people.