Edinburgh, Fife & East Scotland

Dalgety Bay radiation: Sepa says MoD was responsible for contamination

Dalgety Bay
Image caption Diggers have excavated sections of the beach

The Ministry of Defence has been found solely responsible for radioactive contamination at Dalgety Bay in Fife.

It follows an investigation by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) into the history of the contamination at the beach.

Its report said the MoD had routinely incinerated and disposed of aircraft dials in the bay before the town was developed.

The dials had been illuminated by paint containing radium-226.

The aircraft had been stationed at the nearby HMS Merlin airfield, which was commissioned in 1939 as a Royal Naval Aircraft Repair Yard and decommissioned in 1959 before being sold off through the 1960s.

'Contaminated ash'

Subsequently, Dalgety Bay New Town and industrial premises were built in the area.

Sepa's report stated: "The luminising of aircraft instrument dials using paint containing radium-226 was routinely undertaken at HMS Merlin. This was common practice at such sites and is supported by witness statements.

"It is also understood that solid wastes arising were incinerated and disposed on site. Again this was common practice and witness statements recount the burning of dials and other cockpit parts with ashes being disposed near the shore.

"The contamination is the result of disposal of contaminated ash during the lifetime of HMS Merlin and this has been identified at depth in the Headland, Boat Park and Demarcated areas with no evidence that this material, deposited prior to 1959, has been significantly disturbed other than by coastal action.

"Contamination on the foreshore at Dalgety Bay is the result of erosion of deposited material and subsequent re-working and re-deposition of contaminated marine sediments resulting from coastal erosion, a process which is considered to be a normal part of life."

Significant amounts of material remain buried on the coast and continue to erode through coastal processes and re-contaminate the foreshore areas, the report added.

It concluded that Sepa considered the MoD to be the sole "appropriate person" for the contamination.

'Management options'

The risks from the contamination at Dalgety Bay are currently being reduced by a number of measures at the site, including a voluntary monitoring and removal programme undertaken by the MoD.

Sepa will meeting the MoD at the end of July to discuss "long-term management options" and timescales.

Officials said "further engagement" with the local community and other affected parties would also be scheduled.

Dr James Gemmill, Sepa's radioactive substances unit manager, said: "The Appropriate Persons report was necessary to clarify responsibilities for the contamination at Dalgety Bay and determine which parties need to address the issue.

"A lot of work has been put into compiling the report and it, along with the previous risk assessment report, represents another significant step forward to resolving the situation at Dalgety Bay.

"Our aim is to reach a conclusion that will benefit all parties, particularly the local community, and we will be discussing all possible options with the MoD in order to agree a robust, long-term management strategy for addressing the contamination."

The MoD said it would consider the report findings in detail and respond to Sepa in due course.

However, it said it had concerns over the "adequacy and validity" of both Sepa's risk assessment and its approach to the Appropriate Persons Report.

A spokesman said: "We will seek an early meeting with Sepa at senior official level to raise these concerns and discuss the way forward.

"MoD has demonstrated a serious commitment to voluntarily assisting Sepa, the Scottish government and the Dalgety Bay Forum in dealing with the situation at Dalgety Bay. Public Health England assess that the risk to human health on the beach remains low."

The local MP and former prime minister, Gordon Brown, said the MoD was "merely delaying the inevitable" and had a "moral duty" to clean up the site.

"Having been named as the polluter, the Ministry of Defence must now agree to fund the clean-up of the area to remove the contaminated substances from the Dalgety Bay beach, and the work must start immediately," he said.

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