Noxious Haze in Eastbourne By Stephen Lloyd MP
By Stephen Lloyd
I had my meeting this week with Therese Coffey MP, the DEFRA department Minister responsible for examining the emergency service's reactions to the mysterious noxious haze which appeared over Birling Gap, across parts of Eastbourne as far down as Pevensey Bay in August last year.
I've been pressing 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.
Its been a very long, drawn-out process and there have been times where to be honest 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. And, after many weeks of being told that the field was being narrowed down to 1 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!
Both of these outcomes are 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?
From the meeting yesterday 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.
We all know folks. Locally, that this was a major incident which still remains, fundamentally, unresolved. Consequently I will continue to monitor DEFRA's efforts in this area. They've 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 you in the loop.
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February 9th 2018
By Stephen Lloyd MP
Finally I've been sent the official report into the Birling Gap chemical haze incident in August which saw 150+ report to the DGH.
It makes for interesting reading. But you have to dig. So we've put together a simple explainer slide show which gives you the report highlights. (The link to the full report is at the end of our explainer.)
Click here: http://bit.ly/SLHazeExplained
Suffice to say, there's more to do.
Whilst the report suggests probable cause and likely haze contents, it raises other issues. A repeat cannot be ruled out.
I am now going to pursue the following:
- Funding for sampling equipment
- Investigation of early warning systems
- A cross party group of south coast MPs to back these calls
- Better understanding of shipping traffic trends
By Stephen Lloyd
I am pleased to be able to tell all of Eastbourne and Willingdon's residents that my lobbying (nagging!) of the government and various statutory authorities over the mystery noxious haze which struck Birling Gap and much of Eastbourne last August has paid some dividends.
It appears as though they have, at last, agreed to undertake a review into the whole process on the day, why the gas was not collected for later sampling and what lessons can be learned for future reference should such a chemical cloud envelop us again.
To be frank it has been a bit like pulling teeth to get DEFRA, the lead government department, to step up in this way but I am glad they are now, finally, conducting a proper review. I'll wait for the conclusions about what went wrong with interest, what needs to be done so that our relevant statutory authorities are better prepared, and ultimately, that the resource is provided so the appropriate gas-collecting equipment is purchased in future.
I have to say that an apology from the minister in charge, Dr Thérèse Coffey at DEFRA for taking so long to red-light an enquiry wouldn't have come amiss either, but I guess we count our victories one small step at a time......
Birling Gap Noxious Haze:
I sent a letter today to the Minster in charge of air quality, Dr Therese Coffey MP. It was in response to her letter to me which failed to come up with anything new, nor offered even a passing acknowledgment that the statutory authorities had failed the public by not collecting a sample of the gas for testing. Or that frankly they'd made a mistake by 'not' collecting the gas. Pretty disappointing really!
In a nutshell, I think the public have been let down. I'm still horrified to think what would have happened if the haze had been just that little more noxious and, god forbid, someone had actually died. Without a sample though, how on earth would we have known what it was we were dealing with?
An appalling scenario which simply doesn't bear thinking about.
Except that's exactly what our statutory authorities 'have' to do. Their number one priority is to protect the public, which is why I have made it clear I expect the Minister and the government to take the following three actions:
1/ Fess up and acknowledge that it was an error to not collect a gas sample, and to apologise to the public for failing to do so.
2/ To reassure the public that if such an incident were to happen again, the relevant authorities would have the necessary equipment to collect a robust gas sample for analysis.
3/ And that as the responsible department and minister, she would ensure the authorities have the resource necessary to acquire the right equipment with the capacity to collect, store and assess the chemical make-up of any future noxious haze.
My view, the majority of residents I've spoken to and those who've posted on my Facebook on the subject, is we'd just like the relevant authorities to own up that they made a mistake but also commit to learning from the experience, so that if that if such an occurrence should happen again they/we will be better prepared. Is this really too much to ask?
I will let you know her response when I receive it.
Locally, many of you will know that I have been continuing to chase the statutory authorities over the chemical haze which struck Birling Gap and parts of Eastbourne last Sunday week. What was it and where did it come from?
It appears we still do not know who the culprit was. The Maritime and Coastguard Agency retain the on-sea lead and they continue to narrow it down from the 150+ vessels who were in the region at the time.
There is another factor in this whole extraordinary event however which I have only recently discovered. It seemed to me rather odd that none of the relevant statutory authorities had taken a proper sampling of what the the haze actually was.
At first, as I made enquiries, I assumed it was a basic lack of procedure. Not having the relevant protocol for instance. However, I've since discovered this was not the case and there 'is' already a protocol; from a Cabinet Office Guidance document. It's called STAC (scientific and technical advisory cell), and should be established when such an airbourne event occurs, and an air quality cell with the appropriate equipment, set up to collect a sample of the gas, haze, air or whatever it was, for later assessment.
And for some reason on the Sunday evening, it was not.
Apparently the lead agency who should have established STAC was the Environment Agency, so I have just written to their Chief Executive to ask why this wasn't done?
After all the noxious haze affected hundreds of people and all us still want to know what the chemical make-up was of the haze.
We need answers here & I'll ensure we get them!
The latest reports that I've received from the Environment Agency are that the Marine and Coastguard Agency are, most likely, pinning the gas on one of up to 180 ships who were in the vicinity around the time of the gas cloud. The challenge they tell me is identifying which ship, as they are unlikely to own up to doing what appears to have been an illegal act, plus the boats can only be properly assessed when they berth.
I am frustrated that none of the bodies involved appear to have thought to take immediate air samples of the haze, so we all remain unclear what it's make up actually was. This, if true, is a systemic breakdown which is unacceptable. Consequently I will be writing to all the relevant CEO's to ask their Agency's draft a robust protocol for air samples to be collected as soon as practicably possible in future similar incidents, so we can be reassured that such an apparent oversight won't happen again.
For instance a chemist over the weekend told me that it could be as simple as blowing a bicycle pump into a plastic bag in the affected area and then sealing it for checking later. Simple, effective but not, it appears, done by any of the statutory bodies dealing with the problem this time.
I will though keep pressing the authorities to publish whatever information they do have, as without that we are all none the wiser. Not a good place to be in regard to preparedness for future incidents or to reassure people who were affected last Sunday week.
By Stephen Lloyd
I've just received an update from the DGH A&E department re the noxious cloud which swept across Birling Gap, parts of Eastbourne and down, apparently, as far as Bexhill yesterday.
The DGH Senior nurse and an A&E consultant told me the Emergency team dealt very effectively with the situation - 140 or so people with eyes streaming and clearly suffering the consequences of some sort of wind-borne cloud turning up at Eastbourne's A&E was obviously a challenge.
Initially they were told to treat it as a full decontamination issue, so all the staff had to go through this and then the patients, which was obviously both difficult and worrying for all concerned. However, midway through it became clear this was no longer necessary, and A&E staff were able to see those who remained without having to process through decontamination. The clinicians confirmed to me there appeared to be no after-effects after washing the eyes with cold water, and the respiratory itching soon disappeared. Thankfully!
They also confirmed that other bodies were working on identifying what the make up of the chemical haze was, and how it was created in the first place.
I will keep pressing the statutory authorities on this as clearly we need to know what the gas was, not least to prevent it happening again and, if necessary, holding someone or some entity responsible for its release. Obviously this could have been far worse and I think serves as a warning which must not be ignored.
Finally I'd like to thank all the staff at our Eastbourne A&E for responding so effectively to the many additional patients who suddenly turned up to their doorstep, and for dealing with the patients natural concerns effectively. And to the Head Nurse and Doctor who briefed me this afternoon. Equally to all those others who responded so quickly on Sunday; the Fire Service, Coastguards, Police and our very own local RNLI. Thank you.