13 October 2011
People have been barred from an area of foreshore at Dalgety Bay in Fife after dangerous levels of radioactive pollution were found there.
The Scottish Environment Protection Agency discovered a highly radioactive lump of metal near a public footpath at the weekend, and yesterday Fife Council cordoned off the area and erected warning signs.
This is the first time such drastic action has been taken to protect the public from radioactive contamination at Dalgety Bay. The pollution comes from the radium on old military aircraft dials that were burnt and dumped as landfill.
Radioactive particles are being washed ashore at the rate of about a hundred a year, Sepa says. In a recent health assessment, the government agency warned that children who ingest them could suffer a significant risk of cancer in later life.
According to Sepa’s chief executive, Dr Campbell Gemmell, the contamination was removed by scientists after they discovered it. “An initial reading of activity in one of these sources has given sufficient concern for Sepa to have asked Fife Council to restrict access to the area,” he said.
“On Wednesday, Fife Council cordoned off an area of the foreshore close to the public footpath and temporarily erected further warning signs. In the short term, Sepa will continue the current investigation and ensure the removal of any further sources detected.”
The contamination - ten times more radioactive than anything found in the vicinity before - is now being analysed to gain a better understanding of the risks it might pose to human health. The government’s Health Protection Agency and NHS Fife have also been notified.
Sepa has been pressing the Ministry of Defence to take responsibility for cleaning up the pollution. “It is now urgent that an appropriate long term remediation plan is developed,” said Gemmell.
“Sepa will meet with Scottish Government and the Ministry of Defence to expedite this. This may require Sepa to designate an area of the foreshore at Dalgety Bay as radioactive contaminated land.”
Making such a designation would give Sepa powers to force the MoD to take action. The MoD says that it takes it takes public safety very seriously.
Sepa has been backed by the Scottish environment secretary, Richard Lochhead, who is writing to the UK defence secretary, Liam Fox, urging him to take immediate action. "We absolutely must get to the root cause of this repeated contamination of Dalgety Bay," said Lochhead.
"I want to reassure the local community that we will do everything in our power to prevent, once and for all, any radioactive sources being a significant hazard to the public. In the meantime I am confident that Sepa is taking all necessary action to ensure that these sources of radiation are identified and removed quickly so that they no longer pose any threat."