SEPA confirms Dalgety Bay remediation work is complete
SEPA is satisfied that the remediation work carried out by the Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO) and its contractor Balfour Beatty, alongside future monitoring plans and agreed maintenance of rock armour by Fife Council, means the public will be able to enjoy access again for the first time since 2011.
SEPA has been able to work with partners, including the MoD, Fife Council and the local community, to deliver a successful remediation of Dalgety Bay without the need for SEPA to use its powers.
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- Why is Dalgety Bay significant?
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- What is Ministry of Defence's involvement?
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The MOD will now complete a two-year programme of monitoring to demonstrate the effectiveness of the remediation. The SEPA and Fife Council signs advising of the historic contamination will remain in place until this programme is complete.
Following the two-year programme, SEPA will take over monitoring of the area to give the necessary public reassurances in perpetuity.
Fife Council has committed to the ongoing maintenance of the rock armour around the headland to ensure lasting effectiveness.
SEPA and Fife Council signage will remain until remediation has been verified and any sources in the marine environment have been removed.
Once SEPA has verified remediation has been successful, it is expected that some low hazard sources will occasionally be present on the beach, but these will not be of a nature to require any precautions to be undertaken by the public visiting the beach.
Radioactive material was first detected on a part of the foreshore at Dalgety Bay in 1990 as a result of routine environmental monitoring undertaken by the nearby naval base at Rosyth as a part of the permit conditions. An object recovered from the beach was returned to the Rosyth dockyard laboratory for analysis and was found to contain radium-226, which is unrelated to dockyard activities.
Contamination originates from the residue of radium-coated instrument panels from military aircraft incinerated and land-filled in the area at the end of World War II. Radium is a naturally occurring radioactive element and was historically used by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) in luminescent paints.
The Radioactive Contaminated Land (Scotland) Regulations 2007 and their amendments came into force in 2007 and the statutory guidance was issued in 2008. Under these regulations, SEPA have the responsibility for the investigation, identification, characterisation and regulation of remediation of radioactive contaminated land.
Following monitoring and assessments, SEPA established that the contamination originated from the residue of radium-coated instrument panels of military aircraft that were burned and buried at the end of World War II. Investigation works carried out by SEPA identified several caches of particles – with the largest contained within the headland at Dalgety Bay Sailing Club.
SEPA risk assessments of the contamination present resulted in warning signs being erected in 2008. In 2010, SEPA’s monitoring of the area showed the hazard and volume of radioactive contamination was much greater than had been reported on previous occasions, and resulted in the closure of part of the beach to protect public health.
SEPA requested the advice of Public Health England (now UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA)) on the criteria to be used to protect the public at Dalgety Bay, which SEPA and the MoD adopted. This allowed the development of a remediation plan which contained: removal of contamination ; containment of remaining residual contamination and; monitoring to remove contamination which may be mobile in the environment.
The Committee on Medical Aspects of Radiation in the Environment (COMARE) (an independent Government advisory committee on health impacts associated with radioactivity in the environment) monitored the incidence of cancers in the Dalgety Bay area and continue to do so. In 2014 COMARE also called for the remediation of the coastline to protect the public.
As a result of SEPA’s assessments and other work carried out, the MOD worked with SEPA to identify what they could do to address the issue.
Following the two-year monitoring programme MOD will be carrying out, SEPA will take over monitoring of the area to give the necessary public reassurances in perpetuity.
Many surveys have been undertaken on the beach to determine the potential numbers of items present and possible implications for public health. These are available on our Reports page.
The MOD undertook a comprehensive intrusive and investigative survey of the Dalgety Bay area and was able to show that there were large deposits of ashy material along the coastline which contained radioactive contaminants. Aerial photography was used to assess the advancement of the coastline through the emplacement of this ashy material. These data allowed the development of a remediation plan for Dalgety Bay by the MoD.
Several programmes of monitoring and retrieval have taken place, carried out by SEPA radioactive substances specialists as well as specialist contractors employed by both SEPA and the MOD. This includes historic work around houses and gardens in the area. The most recent focus has been on the coastline.
The remediation work, which began in 2021, has been carried out by MOD contractors to deliver a successful remediation of Dalgety Bay.
The work replaced rock armour around the headland and installed a replacement slipway for the Dalgety Bay Sailing Club to ensure that higher activity sources are no longer being eroded out and washed onto the beach, preventing public access to the remaining contamination.
During the two-year project, areas of the foreshore were excavated and processed to remove asbestos and radiological contamination. Around 6,500 particles, mostly low activity, have been removed. Work was paused between October and April each year to protect over wintering birds.
The MOD will now complete a two-year programme of monitoring to demonstrate the effectiveness of the remediation.
How was the contamination detected?
The coastline of Dalgety Bay was contaminated with radioactive material before the town was founded in 1962 and originated from previous Ministry of Defence (MoD) activities associated with the former airfield.
Radioactive contamination was found in 1990 as a result of routine environmental monitoring undertaken by the nearby naval base at Rosyth as a part of the permit conditions. An object recovered from the beach was returned to the Rosyth dockyard laboratory for analysis and was found to contain radium-226, which is unrelated to dockyard activities.
SEPA established that the contamination originated from the residue of radium-coated instrument panels of military aircraft that were burned and buried at the end of World War II. Investigation works carried out by SEPA identified several caches of particles – with the largest contained within the headland at Dalgety Bay Sailing Club.
Radium-226 was used to make articles like instrument dials glow through the emission of radiation. It has a half-life of 1,600 years – which means that every 1,600 years the activity is halved.
Sources at Dalgety Bay have been found in the form of fine sand-sized grains, larger half-brick sized pieces or discrete objects, such as dials. Some of the sources removed from the foreshore would have resulted in a radiation burn to the skin if touched.
Radium-226 decays into polonium 210 and lead 210 which are very hazardous if ingested. A SEPA study into the potential health showed that some of the contamination had much higher solubility in stimulated stomach acid than expected. It is believed that this is due to the burning of the radium-226 to form oxides. This meant that some of the sources would cause very significant health impacts if ingested.
The remediation work has resulted in MoD’s contractor removing over 6,500 radioactive particles from a few hundred metres of coastline, in addition to the sources SEPA and previous contractors removed.
Overall, it is estimated that over 12,000 radioactive particles have been removed from the Dalgety Bay coastline with particle activities ranging from less than 1,000 Becquerels (less than 1,000 Bq) to over 76,000,000 Bq.
Other potential sites in Scotland
SEPA is aware that radium was widely used across Scotland and continues to monitor sites where contamination is present to ensure that it poses no real risk to the public. We will act as needed to protect public health and the environment.
Public protection can be achieved by ensuring there is no route by which people can come into contact with contamination, such as fencing off areas or ensuring it is buried at depth. The eroding coastline at Dalgety Bay made the situation at this site unique in Scotland, which is why removal of particles was also required.
If you require any more information or advice about Dalgety Bay, please contact us.