England

Substance on Kent and Sussex beaches 'a mineral oil', tests reveal

Palm oil deposits at Folkestone Image copyright Folkestone Coastguard
Image caption The waxy, pale yellow deposits with a petroleum jelly-like smell were found on the beach at Folkestone on Sunday

A mysterious waxy substance found on beaches in the South East is a mineral oil, not palm oil as originally suspected, tests have confirmed.

Dog owners have been warned to keep pets on leads since the deposits appeared on beaches in Kent and Sussex.

Tests in Kent have revealed a mineral oil "of unknown source or proposed use" and investigations are continuing.

The substance is not hazardous to humans or animals unless eaten, Shepway council said.

A joint statement from Kent County Council (KCC), the Maritime & Coastguard Agency and Shepway District Council said the worst affected areas were between Sandgate and Folkestone Warren.

It has advised the public not to touch the substance and to keep dogs on a lead.

It also said the public should alert the RSPCA if any distressed seabirds were found, and not to touch the birds themselves.

Paraffin-based

The likely source of the pollution "would appear to be from shipping in the Dover Strait", the statement said.

Kent Scientific Services, part of Kent County Council (KCC), carried out a chemical analysis and was able to identify the paraffin-based substance.

It revealed: "The fatty acid profile was not consistent with palm oil or any vegetable based oil. The profile resembled one from a 'fuel'-based oil."

A clean-up operation is under way.

Thanet District Council said precautionary signs erected around its coastline had now been taken down.

It said beaches were now clear and also that on inspection most reported sightings were actually non-harmful whelk egg cases.

Brighton and Hove District Council did not have any test results but said it had been clear from the start it was "suspected" palm oil.

Adur and Worthing District Council said its tests also showed the substance was a waxy mineral oil.

Its clean-up process will begin on Monday. High tides and strong winds made it unsafe for staff to start on Friday.

Chris Drake, Coastal Officer at KCC, said: "KCC will work with all the agencies concerned to ensure that our coastline is quickly restored and that if possible; those responsible for the pollution are identified and made to cover the costs of the clean-up."

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