Hampshire & Isle of Wight

Beaches still closed after Esso oil spill in Hampshire

A clean-up operation has got under way after oil was washed on to two miles (3.2km) of Hampshire coast following a pipeline leak in Southampton Water.

About 20 barrels of vacuum gas oil were spilled at Esso's Fawley Refinery on Sunday night as a ship was unloaded.

About 1km (0.6 miles) of beach from Hill Head to Meon Shore chalets remains closed and people have been told to stay out of the water.

Esso has compiled a residents' fact sheet and will meet the clean-up costs.

Shellfish beds in the area have been closed while tests are carried out to establish if they pose risks to health.

Booms are in place to prevent oil being washed ashore at Titchfield Haven National Nature Reserve, while others are on standby.

Workers wearing rubber boots and armed with shovels and plastic sacks have been assisting in cleaning up the affected areas.

"Particular attention is being paid to protecting environmentally-sensitive sites in Southampton Water and the Solent including the saltmarshes and Titchfield haven," a Fareham Borough Council spokesperson said.

Because the area is a site of special scientific interest, the clean-up involves bagging up the contaminated shingle after each high tide and sending it away to be cleaned, before returning it to the same place.

Work to disperse oil in Fawley Refinery's marine terminal has been completed, but environmental monitoring will continue.

Image caption Residents have been told to stay away from contaminated beaches

Southampton-based experts Oil Spill Response have been carrying out tests to see if the oil has seeped from the beaches further into the ground.

The fact sheet can be found on the council's website and gives advice on what residents should do if they find the oil on their skin or hair, in their eyes, on clothing, or on their pets or boats.

It advises people to use soap or shampoo and water. Eyes should be rinsed with clean, fresh water. Anyone with concerns should contact their GP.

Vacuum gas oil is similar to central heating oil and is used by Esso in the production of petrol.

It was being imported and unloaded from a ship when the leak occurred.

On Monday, Esso said any health risks were "very, very low" and the oil was only a "potential carcinogen" to people with repeated, prolonged exposure.

It apologised for the "regrettable incident" - and said the unloading was immediately stopped on Sunday night.

The Environment Agency has said it is investigating the oil spill.

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