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Scottish beach in radium contamination probe

Dumped luminous aircraft dials suspected

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Scientists say radioactive contamination on a beach in Scotland's Fife headland probably comes from wartime aircraft luminous dials* which were burned then dumped during the 1950s, the BBC reports. The Scottish Environment Protection Agency is stumping up £50,000 to discover the levels of radium contamination and any associated health risk.

Sepa's concerns are not unfounded. The agency said more radioactive items were being detected on Dalgety Bay at the Fife headland than at Sandside Beach near Dounreay nuclear plant in Caithness. However, since the contamination was first discovered in 1990, an initial investigation in 1995 showed that the "maximum fatal risk per year from inhaling or swallowing a radioactive particle to any user of the area surveyed was negligible and was calculated as clearly less than one in a million".

Nonetheless, concerns remain. The Beeb's Scotland environment correspondent Louise Batchelor reported last week: "When they did some monitoring here last year they found 90 radioactive items, clearly far more than have been found at Sandside Beach near Dounreay. Some are more active than others - the point of this next piece of monitoring is to take the material away and find out just how dangerous it is and whether or not it is fine enough to be swallowed or inhaled.

"It could give you a skin burn if you held a piece of this clinker for a long time, for many hours, but it could be quite dangerous if you swallowed it or breathed it in and that's what they want to find out about."

NHS Fife has also assured people that the risks were minimal, but added that they should wash their hands after handling anything from the beach. Fife Council will on Wednesday discuss installing warning signs, and welcomed Sepa's actions. East area manager Roy Stewart noted: "Fife Council has a duty of care both to the local community and visitors to the area." ®

Related links

The Scottish Office Central Research Unit Assessment of the Implications of Radium Contamination of Dalgety Bay Beach and Foreshore (1995 study - summary).

Bootnote

According to the Scotsman, the material comes from "planes dismantled at Donibristle airbase" - actually a Naval Air Station, close to Dalgety Bay, which closed in 1959.

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