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15 November 2011

New Service To Provide Better Protection For Public Health During A Significant Air Pollution Incident

A new service launches today which aims to better protect the public in the event of a significant air pollution incident, just hours after it was deployed to monitor air pollution during an incident in the Firth of Forth.

The Airborne Hazards Emergency Response (AHER) service will improve the provision of information about airborne hazards during a significant incident, for example during an explosion or a major fire. This will allow NHS Scotland and the emergency services to assess the potential risks to human health and mitigate them.

Introduction of the new service has been led by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) in partnership with Health Protection Scotland (HPS), Fire and Rescue Services, the Met Office, the Police, Scottish Government, Food Standards Agency Scotland, Health Boards, Local Authorities, Health and Safety Laboratory and the Environment Agency in England and Wales.

The Scottish Government has provided funding of £2 million over three years for the project. A substantial proportion of this funding has been spent on scientific monitoring equipment. The service has a fully equipped mobile laboratory, two response vehicles and a range of scientific equipment dispersed across the country which will be deployed in the event of a significant incident and onsite air monitoring will continue until the threat from the incident has passed.

James Curran, SEPA's Director of Science and Strategy said:

"The main aim of the service is to protect the public in the event of a significant air pollution incident by providing interpreted and informed scientific advice on airborne hazards to colleagues in NHS Scotland. This new service will provide a much improved capability for assessing the hazards associated with significant air pollution incidents, and will provide much better protection for the public and the environment from the risks associated with these types of incidents."

Environment Minister Stewart Stevenson

"Protecting and informing the public are two key priorities during a major air pollution incident.

"The Air Hazard Emergency Response (AHER) service is an important tool which will help inform the public, emergency services and SEPA about any potential air quality implications arising from a major accident. This is a fantastic example of agencies working across boundaries to get maximum use of our available resources."

AHER was deployed yesterday afternoon following a suspected spill from a pipeline between Hound Point Terminal and Dalmeny Tank Farm, which resulted in ballast water entering the Firth of Forth and the release of Hydrogen Sulphide into the air. The SEPA vehicle remained on site until 22.00 last night collecting information, which was passed on to Health Protection Scotland so they could provide advice and guidance to NHS Lothian on public health matters. Monitoring showed that while there was a strong odour over the area, levels were not at a point where they were a risk to human health.

AHER arrived back on the scene at 7.30 am today and will continue to collect data and provide it to partner agencies over the course of the day. Levels this morning have slightly dropped since yesterday.

Stewart Stevenson
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