Radiation risk at Scots beach worse than thought, says report

Babies and toddlers could ingest radium particles

SCOTS children exposed to radioactive pollution at a popular beach face a “significant” risk of developing cancer, a new health study warns.

The study by the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (Sepa) examined the risk to youngsters posed by contamination of part of Dalgety Bay, Fife.

It concluded that babies or toddlers who ingested “hot particles” from the beach could get radiation doses hundreds of times higher than the maximum permitted in the nuclear industry.

Sepa also warned that earlier studies have underestimated the risk posed by the pollution because radioactive particles are more likely than previously thought to stay in the body.

The quango is increasing pressure on the Ministry of Defence to take responsibilty for the problem by finding out where the pollution is coming from and cleaning it up.

The area was the siteof an old military airfield where many aircraft were broken up at the end of the Second World War. It is thought that the radioactive luminous radium used in aircraft instruments could be the source of the problem.

The Sepa study states that the pollution at Dalgety Bay poses “a significant hazard to health”.

It is now believed that as many as a quarter of radioactive particles that make their way into the body will stay there. Earlier studies suggested it was around 15%.

The radiation dose to a small child who ingested the radioactive particles could, therefore, be hundreds of times higher than the one milliSievert a year limit for nuclear industry workers.

To make matters worse, the radium 266 in the particles has a half-life of 1,600 years, said Sepa.

The agency’s expert in radioactive substances, Paul Dale, estimates that there is a one in 91 chance of people encountering radioactive contamination at the site.

Dale suggests the chances are even higher because visitors may be attracted to pick up aircraft dials, get the luminous paint under their fingernails and later ingest it.

A former MoD safety official today (Sun) accused his former employers of delaying tactics over the issue.

Fred Dawson, who retired as head of the radiation protection policy team in 2009, said a game of “pass the parcel” was being played with the Dalgety Bay radiation.

He said: “The MoD should take immediate responsibilty for the contamination and fund all work necessary to make Dalgety Bay beach safe for public use.”

Nearby Dalgety Bay Sailing Club said it had moved warning signs about the pollution to make them more visible.

“The club has informed its membership and re-emphasised the hygiene advice already given,” said a spokesman.

“The club will fully participate in all future discussions regarding management of the issue as well as actively investigating practical solutions for long-term remediation,” he added.

A spokeswoman for the MoD said: “We have yet to see the latest findings from Sepa. Should significant risks presents themselves, then Sepa has the necessary statutory powers to address these.”