Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Dalgety Bay on-shore Radium Contamination

Recent press reports about Dalgety bay featuring interviews with Gordon Brown speaking about the ”new” discovery of particles of radioactive onshore at Crowhill wood should not ellicit any surprise, it appears that Gordon Brown is playing  catch-up. 

Links to recent press reports

It’s clear from a report that MOD commissioned Enviros to produce in 2009 that the possibility of onshore contamination was an issue. The report  describes on-shore contamination including investigations of domestic properties and gardens built over the former RNAS/RAF Donibristle salvage area in the 1960s.  This and associated reports were released by Defence Estates in response to a FOI request made 2010.

Extract from the Enviros report describing areas surveyed inshore from the beach

Link to full report

“Investigation Works Undertaken

8.  As a result of the data from the first Phase Two LQA and in particular the findings relating to Property D in Zone 2A, a further phase of investigations were undertaken. The site works involved both radiological walkover surveys and intrusive investigation, the areas investigated are summarised below (Zone designation used in original Phase Two LQA are shown in brackets):

  • Dalgety Bay Sailing Club Boat Park (Zone 1): Radiological walkover survey of northern area where access was previously not possible;
  • Property A in Zone 2A and Properties H & I in Zone 4B: Radiological walkover survey and random soil sampling from two properties in Zone 4B.
  • Radiological walkover survey and random soil sampling from one property in Zone 2A which had not allowed access during the original Phase Two LQA.
  • Former Salvage Section (Zone 2A): 1m by 1m gridded radiological walkover surveys and soil sampling in the garden areas of six properties. Where radium-226 and elevated count rates were identified removal of disseminated contamination and point sources was undertaken where possible.
  • Internal Monitoring: Count and dose rate surveys covering accessible areas of the ground floor of six properties on the former Salvage Section and the sailing club house. A similar property outside the impacted area was also surveyed to provide a typical background for the developments which could be used as a comparison.”

Link to full report



Monday, 16 January 2012

The failing regime for managing contaminated land.

RNAS/RAF Pulham  provides a typical  example of a site potentially  contaminated with Radium 

The Government recently introduced a new regime for the management of contaminated land to protect both man and the environment.   Recent FOIs have been asked, to try to establish the extent of the  hazards and risk  arsing from historic contamination due to use of  radium as a luminising agent by the Ministry of Defence.  This issue was also subject to a detailed review by the Governments Radioactive Waste management Advisory committee (RWMAC).

The recent  concerns  about this  legacy of  radium contamination  and the potential risk to the public and environment has been highlighted by  the  discovery  that the beach at Dalgety Bay is far more extensively contaminated than previously thought  and the MODs extreme reluctance to admit liability. The MOD has also released a list of some of the sites where radium contamination is an issue.

What has become clear that MOD has little if any records about radium contamination for those parts of the defence estate disposed of between the end of the Second World War and the 1980s. What records that do exist are mainly clearance certificates which were concerned about unexploded ordnance and explosives and not with other contaminates such as Radium, heavy metals, asbestos, chemical weaopns or organic solvents.

In response to an FOI  it is clear With introduction of the contaminated land regime that the MOD policy is :- 

“The site was despised of in the early 1960s and predates the MOD Land Quality Assessment programme. The MOD there only holds the enclosed 1969 Clearance Certificate that might be relevant to your request.

I am advised that former sites such as this fall within the statutory responsibility of the Local authority to inspect the land in its area and identify any contaminated land. It is therefore suggested that any evidence of contamination you have should be brought to the attention of the Local Authority “

This effectively shuffles off any responsibility to identify contaminated land that the MOD once owned or controlled to the Local Authorities.  Local Authorities are very unlikely to hold any information about these sites and therefore are unlikely to have the means to identify whether or not such land is contaminated.  

It is clear that with the need to find cost savings MOD has lost the capability to assist local authorities in identifying contaminated defence land.  MOD may have  transferred information that would have helped to the National Archive or the information may have been lost or destroyed. 

I asked the Local Authority  “Could you please provide me with information about the nature and extent of radium contamination at RNAS/RAF Pulham in Norfolk Lat 52° 24.690'N long 1° 14.011'E”

“The historic past use by the Ministry of Defence (MOD) of part of the site many years ago for aircraft breaking raises the possibility of radium 226 contamination. The nature and extent of any possible contamination is being considered but formal investigations which require detailed planning have yet to be instigated. The Council is actively working with the Environment Agency, Health Protection Agency, MOD and others within the legal framework from government to clarify what action is appropriate to investigate the possibility of contamination.” 

The Wikipedia entry for RNAS/RAF Pulham says  “During World War II, Pulham Air Station was used as an aircraft salvage yard for the East of England, with several huge dumps of scrapped aircraft. The resultant contamination of the land is visible even today. The RAF used Pulham for storage and Maintenance Unit work until closure in 1958.” This activity appears to very similar to that at RNAS Donnibristle  which may have lead to the contamination of Dalgety Bay with Radium.


The lack of information to identify whether or radium contamination is present means that only a very expensive physical survey will provide an answer.
The lesson to be learnt is that it is important to retain knowledge and information over long periods of time if you wish to answer questions of liability and risk.