Experts are examining satellite images in a desperate bid to find the cause of a mysterious toxic gas cloud which left hundreds of people hospitalised.
As families enjoyed a day out at Birling Gap in East Sussex a strange mist engulfed the coast, leaving many with stinging eyes, breathing difficulties and sickness on Sunday.
The beach was quickly evacuated as emergency services raced to the scene and more than 200 people were treated at Eastbourne District General Hospital, which declared a major incident.
Neodaas, a facility of the UK Natural Environment Research Council that works with the Plymouth Marine Laboratory, tweeted satellite images showing a plume off the East Sussex coast
Birling Gap was quickly evacuated after a toxic smoke engulfed the beach and emergency services raced to the scene
Hospital staff were seen wearing protective clothing as they checked patients over in contamination tents. Witnesses said patients were hosed down and made to change clothes
Various theories to explain the cause of the gas include a corroded WWI gas canister, a chlorine leak in France drifting over the Channel to a tanker using cleaning chemicals an an algae bloom under the sea.
However two have been dismissed with officials saying the chemical was unlikely to have been chlorine due to the relatively minor symptoms experienced by victims.
Plymouth Marine Labs also ruled out an algae bloom saying: ‘Our satellite images show no unusual algal activity to suggest harmful bloom caused the Birling Gap haze.’
Scientists are now looking at satellite images to locate the source of the chemical plume – as authorities admit they are still in the dark over the identity and toxicity of the gas.
Neodaas, a facility which provides Earth observation data and works with the Plymouth Marine Laboratory, tweeted satellite images showing a plume off the East Sussex coast on Sunday.
The smoke plume is around 3.5km long, and some 10km offshore.
Plymouth Marine Labs ruled out an algae bloom saying: ‘Our satellite images show no unusual algal activity to suggest harmful bloom caused the Birling Gap haze’
More than 200 people were treated at Eastbourne District General Hospital, which declared a major incident on Sunday night
Ben Taylor, from the Plymouth Marine Laboratory, told MailOnline: ‘The satellite image shows a plume that is either smoke or haze above the water or else something in the water, in either case being emitted from a point source and being taken with the wind or current as appropriate.
‘My feeling is that it is unlikely to be from a ship, because the resolution is 10m per pixel, so we should be able to see a vessel if there was one (and the smoke doesn’t look thick enough to hide one to me).
‘If it is not a ship, then the likely sources are either something floating just below the surface, or else something on the sea bed.
‘This could be entirely natural, but it would be odd to have an isolated rock or something there that released sediment that fast but had not eroded.
‘One possibility might be a man-made container or similar that had been there for some time and has now corroded to the point of releasing its contents – this might be something lost from a container ship or even wartime chemical munitions, though it must be stressed that that would be very speculative.’
Beachy Head Lighthouse was surrounded by the eerie mist that caused worrying symptoms
Eyewitness Graham Howson from Shoreham claims he noticed a large ship about four miles off the coast heading east while emitting a thick, yellow mist.
Mr Howson said: ‘I think it was a dredger and it had this thick, gunky yellow fog coming out of the back of it.
‘It stood out for me because it was out of the ordinary as the mist was not dissipating, it was just lingering behind.’
Richard O’Callaghan, of the Environment Agency said: ‘We are currently investigating any potential onshore sources of the pollution.
‘To date we have not identified anything that could be attributed to the mist. We are liaising with the Maritime and Coastguard Agency who are doing similar investigations offshore.’
Rebecca Baldock shared a Snapchat of herself and friends complaining of streaming and burning eyes. In the footage she says: ‘My eyeballs, my eyeballs’
The hazy cloud appeared to drift in from the sea at Birling Gap, near Beachy Head (pictured) in East Sussex – Britain’s tallest chalk sea cliffs at 530ft high
But victims of the toxic gas are angry and say they want answers over what chemical they were exposed to.
Some 24 hours after the gas first hit the beach, residents and holidaymakers complained they were being ‘fobbed off’ by emergency services who could not reveal what it was or where it came from.
Simon Jessop wrote on Facebook: ‘It is preposterous that the south coast of Britain can be swamped by a toxic cloud and hundreds of people are left in hospital, yet the authorities are none the wiser.’
Sally Duval tweeted: ‘How can we still not know what the chemical was?’