Chemical and environmental incidents

Background

A chemical incident is when a chemical is accidentally or deliberately released into the environment. The incident is managed and eventually resolved according to the chemical's:

  • physical state
  • quantity
  • danger level

Chemical incidents may involve:

  • a plume of gas
  • smoke
  • fire
  • contamination of water
  • contamination of land

Each of these has their own particular challenges for those trying to control the release and cleaning up any contamination to the environment, while ensuring the safety of the population surrounding the incident.

Environmental incidents are generally large scale incidents that affect a significant area. Examples of environmental incidents include:

  • wild fires
  • volcanic ash plumes
  • flooding due to storms
  • flooding due to high volume rainfall 

These incidents will require working with a number of different organisations over a number of different geographical areas.

Our key role in a chemical or environmental incident is to provide specialist operational support and advice to stakeholders. Our scientific and medical staff provide specialised advice on the public health implications of hazardous exposures. This support is given during acute incidents and for chronic exposures that result from incidents that extend over a longer period of time.

Data and surveillance

We operate the Scottish Environmental Incident Surveillance System (SEISS) (login required) which conducts surveillance of environmental incidents, involving risk to human health, at a national level in Scotland.

The system is based on a comprehensive incident database for Scotland, combining information on the occurrence of chemical, microbiological and radiological incidents with details of the:

  • response
  • sources of information
  • lessons learned

The system enhances the local, regional and national awareness of incidents and provides a nationwide forum for distributing information to participating agencies with responsibilities for responding to chemical and environmental incidents that have the potential to impact on public health.

For further Information please email the SEISS Team.

SEISS newsfeed

  • Major wildfire threatens Moray wind farm

    Firefighters have worked through the night tackling a large wildfire near a wind farm in Moray. The alarm was raised just before 15:00 on Monday when flames were spotted near Paul's Hill wind farm at Knockando, south west of Elgin. About 30 firefighters are at the scene of the blaze but at its height more than 50 people were involved. The blaze covers an area of six miles by two miles. There were no reports of any casualties. The Paul's Hill wind farm, consisting of 28 turbines, is run by Fred Olsen Renewables. There was a large grass fire in the same area last weekend.

  • Grassland fire in Muirhead, North Lanarkshire

    Emergency services were called at at 8.39pm Sunday night to reports of a grassfire on the Muirhead heathland. One fire appliance was sent to the scene but subsequently another three were sent to tackle the blaze. Andy Thomson, who spotted the fire and called the fire service said: "It was pretty bad, it was spreading so fast." The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) said the last appliance left at 22.09 when the fire had been fully extinguished. The cause of the fire remains unknown, but yesterday Scotland witnessed the hottest Easter Sunday on record with temperatures reaching 22C in some parts.

  • Firefighters tackle Lochaber wildfire

    Firefighters are tackling a separate wildfire affecting about 75 acres of land in Lochaber. It broke out south of Kinlochleven on Sunday and was still burning on Monday evening. The flames were being fanned by windy conditions, and four pumps were sent to the scene.

  • Major fire at an Aberdeen industrial estate

    A major north-east road has been closed after a fire broke out at an industrial estate in Aberdeen. Thick black smoke can be seen for miles as firefighters tackle the blaze on Skene Road that broke out at around 3pm on Saturday. Emergency services, including police officers and the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service are currently in attendance. The A944 is now closed in both directions as a result. It is closed Eastbound at its junction with B9119 and Westbound at Kingsford. Motorists are asked to take alternate routes where possible. There are no reports of any injuries at this time.

  • Blaze on a hillside at Loch Doon

    Firefighters have spent a second night tackling a large forest fire in East Ayrshire. The emergency services were alerted to the blaze on a hillside at Loch Doon at about 18:50 on Saturday. At least five miles of hillside has been affected and the public have been asked to avoid the area. East Ayrshire Council said overnight that "progress" was being made and that a welfare centre had been opened in the nearby town of Dalmellington. Fire crews have been working in the area with support from Police Scotland and Forestry Commission Scotland. They are expected to remain at the scene monitoring the site and managing hot spot areas. The cause of the outbreak is still under investigation but the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) said recent dry weather has heightened the wildfire risk. A number of other fires broke out over the weekend, including one near Paul's Hill wind farm near Ballindalloch. SFRS Assistant Chief Officer Lewis Ramsay said: "Our crews across Scotland have had a challenging weekend attending numerous incidents. "Due to the outstanding collaborative working with land owners, The Forestry Commission and Police Scotland we have been able to ensure the safety of our communities. "I would like to thank the wider community for their ongoing support, the hard work of our partners, and the crews on the ground for their tireless efforts."

  • Fire crews tackle large grass blaze in Moray

    Firefighters have been tackling two large grass fires in Moray and East Ayrshire. The blazes near Ballindalloch and in Dalmellington came as the fire service warned of an increased risk of wildfires. Six appliances and a special wild fire unit were called out to a blaze near Paul's Hill Wind Farm at Ballindalloch which broke out at 22:55 on Saturday. A total of 35 firefighters eventually extinguished the blaze at about 15:20. A helicopter was also brought in to waterbomb the area. Mark Loynd, group manager with the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service, told BBC Scotland: "The fire was initially on two fronts and the crews had to gain access to a very rough terrain. "It was in a very inaccessible location with very limited water supplies so most of the fire has been put out by firefighters using beaters and knapsack sprays to attack the heather that was on fire." The cause of the fire, which covered an area of about 1km sq, is being investigated. Mr Loynd added: "I would like to thank the crews who have been working very hard over a protracted period. "And although it's still cool in the Highlands and Morayshire, the risk of wildfire is quite high because everything is very dry. So I would ask members of the public to please take care during the holiday period and going into the Easter weekend so we don't get any more wildfires unnecessarily."

  • Eight fire crews tackle heather and gorse hill blaze

    Eight fire crews were sent to battle a blaze in the Sidlaw Hills in Angus. The fire took hold in the Craigowl Hill area, several miles north of Dundee. Emergency services were called to the scene just after 6pm on Friday. They have now left the area, but will return in the morning to reassess the situation. A spokeswoman for the Scottish Fire & Rescue Service said controlled heather and gorse burning got out of control on rural land. She added: "We received a call at around 6pm and initially sent two appliances. One was from Kirriemuir and the other was from Forfar. "They requested additional back-up, so eight were sent in total. "The fire front was around two miles in area. "We have left the scene, but will be back out in the morning to reassess the situation."

  • Firefighters tackle large gorse blaze near Banff

    Firefighters have been tackling a large gorse fire in Aberdeenshire. Emergency services were alerted to the blaze near Banff shortly before 15:00. It was spotted on open land near Newpark, Ordiquhill. A spokesman for the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service said: "Operations Control mobilised six fire engines and firefighters are currently tackling the flames. There are no casualties. Crews will remain in attendance." Police said the incident led to local road closures.

  • Firefighters tackle Arthur's Seat blaze

    Dozens of firefighters have battled through the night to extinguish a large gorse fire on Arthur's Seat in Edinburgh. The fire engulfed about 800 square metres of gorse on the Salisbury Crags. The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service said they had received 197 calls between 18:30 and 20:30 on Tuesday about the blaze. Teams were stood down at about 02:45 on Wednesday. There were no reports of any injuries. The fire resulted in Queen's Drive being closed between Dynamic Earth and the Commonwealth Pool while emergency services dealt with the incident. Two fire engines from Edinburgh went to the scene along with an all-terrain vehicle from Dunblane.

  • Emergency crews stop chemical leak at Shotts bakery

    Emergency crews scrambled to stop a chemical leak from a Shotts bakery. A team from Scottish Fire and Rescue rushed to the scene at Torbothie Road around noon last Wednesday at the Bells bakery. It was later confirmed they were dealing with a suspected ammonia leak from a burst pipe. Crews remained on the scene for almost four hours. A Scottish Fire and Rescue spokesman said: “We were requested to assist emergency service partners at an incident involving suspected hazardous material at a business premises in Shotts. "Operations Control mobilised five fire engines and an environmental protection unit to the two-storey industrial premises, on Torbothie Road. “The building was fully evacuated, and firefighters thereafter carried out atmospheric testing and worked to make the area safe. There were no casualties.” Ammonia is a corrosive, colourless gas which can be dissolved in water to make an alkaline solution. The liquid solution can be used as a cleaning fluid. Exposure to high concentrations causes immediate burning of the nose, throat and respiratory tract. Exposure to low concentrations of ammonia in air or solution may produce rapid skin or eye irritation. A spokesperson for Bells said: “Bell Food Group Ltd (Hawthorn Bakery) and the residential Shotts area experienced two power cuts yesterday morning. “When electrical power resumed a power surge appeared to have resulted in an isolated equipment malfunction leading to a temporary leak in Bells’ ammonia refrigeration system. “Hawthorn Bakery was very quickly and successfully evacuated of all personnel immediately on detection of the leak. “The Fire Brigade and Police services were on site within minutes of being notified. Specialist refrigeration engineers were on site within 30 minutes to ascertain root cause. “Any gas leak has been stemmed and there is no danger to employees. No employees or local residents were injured, and the bakery was soon fully operational.”

  • Fife beaches closed by suspected oil spill

    Two beaches in Fife have been closed as a precaution while a suspected oil spill is investigated. Environmental health officials are trying to work out the source of the pollution on beaches in the villages of Limekilns and Charlestown. Residents reported a strong smell of oil on Monday, and pockets of pollution have been seen on the shoreline near the villages. Fife Council has warned people to avoid contact with the beach and the water. Environmental health officials from the local authority have posted signs at Limekilns and Charlestown beaches stating it has been "contaminated by an unknown pollutant". Forth Ports, which owns the nearby port of Rosyth, said the spill appears to be a light refined diesel. The firm also said its investigations on the scene suggest the spill came from a drain on the land. The suspected oil spill has been seen in the Firth of Forth and on the beaches. Joanna McFarlane, of the Charlestown, Limekilns and Pattiesmuir Nature Conservation Group, said there had been reports of "a really strong smell of oil" on Monday night. "Then this morning we woke up to this very sad sight of oil on our beach," she said. "This beach means a lot to the community here in Limekilns. Our local school has spent many hours helping to clean it and the community comes out regularly for beach cleans, not just for us but for the wildlife on this coastlines. "But this is out of our hands and I would like to find out who is responsible for it." Officials from Fife Council and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) have been at the beaches trying to trace the source of the spill. Sepa said early indications pointed to an isolated incident "which is not ongoing". Fife Council said warning signs had been erected and a clean-up operation had started. A spokesman for Forth Ports said: "We are currently investigating a reported small oil spill on the beach at Limekilns. It appears to be a light refined diesel. "On receiving the initial report, Forth Ports immediately sent a pollution response vessel to the area to investigate and nothing was found on the water. "Subsequent investigations from our on scene response suggest spill has come from a drain on the land. We are working with Sepa and Fife Council on this." Dunfermline and West Fife SNP MSP Shirley-Anne Somerville said: "This incident is very concerning. Urgent action is needed to ensure that lasting damage isn't caused to local wildlife and the surrounding environment. "I've contacted Sepa, in order to find out more about the source of this pollution, and the steps that are being taken to address the matter."

  • Harmful chemicals in a Glasgow burn to be flushed

    High levels of a toxic chemical which turned a Glasgow burn bright green are to be flushed into the River Clyde, the city council has said. The burn in Polmadie was fenced off after inspectors from environment watchdog Sepa discovered a concentration of hexavalent chromium. The element, which has been linked with cancer, is largely banned in manufacturing in the EU. Glasgow City Council said a proposal to flush out the burn had been agreed on. A spokeswoman said: "Following a site visit last week and confirmation about the temporary high concentration of hexavalent chromium in the Polmadie Burn, Heras fencing has been put in place to restrict public access and there is an agreed proposal to temporarily increase the flow of the burn, in a controlled way, to dilute the level of chromium." Environmental officers warned the contamination posed a risk to public health. The source of the chemical in the burn, according to Sepa (the Scottish Environment Protection Agency), was from historical chemical works which existed in the area from the 1800s until the late 1960s. Much of the waste by-products were used to backfill the former clay pits, near the West Burn in Shawfield. The council said chemicals contaminated the West Burn before seeping into the Polmadie Burn. To tackle the link, the West Burn was diverted into the River Clyde on 21 January and is in the process of being sealed up, according to council officials. Meanwhile temporary fencing was erected to restrict public access to the Polmadie Burn. It is thought the majority of chromium that was getting into the Polmadie Burn has now stopped. However small volumes could continue to seep in until the West Burn is fully sealed. Sepa expects the green colour will gradually disappear which will be helped by heavy rainfall. A proposal to allow more water to flow into the Polmadie Burn to dilute the chemicals was agreed on Tuesday following a meeting between Glasgow City Council, Sepa and Clyde Gateway. A spokeswoman from Sepa said pollution was the result of chromium ore processing residue from a former chemical works, previously located in the Shawfield area. She said work to stop contaminated ground water from entering the Polmadie Burn was due to be completed in the next couple of weeks. The flushing process requires a licence from Sepa and must be done in a controlled manner. The water will eventually flow into the River Clyde. It is expected to take place in the next two weeks.

  • Firefighters battle Innerleithen industrial unit blaze

    Firefighters have been battling a blaze at an industrial unit in the Scottish Borders. A number of crews were called to the scene at Traquair Road in Innerleithen at about 13:20. A warehouse building was well alight by the time they arrived at the scene of the incident. The Scottish Fire and Rescue service issued an appeal for the public to stay away from the Traquair Road area so firefighting efforts were not hampered. People in nearby homes were urged to keep their windows closed as a precaution.

  • Blaze at St Andrews University science building

    More than 30 firefighters tackled a blaze in a science building at the University of St Andrews in Fife. They were alerted to a fire involving suspected hazardous materials shortly before 17:00 on Sunday. Images posted on social media showed flames and smoke rising into the air from the four-storey building. The fire service said the building was evacuated and there were no casualties. Shortly before 23:00, they said the fire had been extinguished. At its height, eight fire engines including a height appliance were involved in the operation. In a statement issued late on Sunday, the fire service added: "Crews currently remain on the scene and are expected to remain so for some time as they work to make the area safe and extinguish any remaining hotspots." The university described the fire in its biomedical sciences building in North Haugh as "serious". It is shared by the university's schools of chemistry and biology. About 100 staff and postgraduate students work in its labs, where medically-focused research in organic and synthetic chemistry, virology and microbiology is carried out.

  • School in Aboyne evacuated and closed over chemical smell

    Hundreds of pupils have been sent home for the day from a school in Aberdeenshire after a suspicious chemical smell was reported. Firefighters were called to Aboyne Academy at about 10:40. The Fire Service said it responded to reports that there was an odour similar to sulphur coming from a cleaning cupboard. The school was evacuated and pupils were allowed to leave early. No one has been injured. The source of the smell is still being investigated.

  • Smoke plume visible for miles as fire engulfs Hamilton carwash

    A large fire has broken out at a carwash in South Lanarkshire, creating a plume of smoke visible for miles around. Fire crews were called to the Sponge N' Hoses premises on Muir Street in Hamilton just after 05:35. A Scottish Fire and Rescue Service spokeswoman described the carwash as "well alight". There were no reports of injuries, and it was believed no one was in the property when it went up in flames. Four appliances were in attendance, including two pump vehicles and two aerial vehicles. The surrounding area was cordoned off by emergency services, and some public transport was affected.

  • Major blaze at Stobhill Hospital in Glasgow

    More than 100 firefighters were called out to tackle a large blaze at a derelict hospital in Glasgow. The fire broke out at Stobhill Hospital, in the Springburn area of the city, at about 18:15. The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service said, at its height, 20 fire appliances were involved in the operation. Firefighters remained overnight at the scene of the fire which, according one report, was centred on the old X-ray department. The hospital, intended to provide medical care to the poor, opened in 1904, with more than 1,800 beds. Several of the original buildings are listed as category B. A replacement hospital specialising in areas such as day surgery opened in 2009, with in-patient and A&E services transferred to Glasgow Royal Infirmary.

  • Fire crews tackle blaze at derelict former school in Glasgow

    More than 40 firefighters tackled a blaze at a derelict school in Glasgow's southside. The emergency services were alerted to the fire at the former Howford School on Crookston Road at about 15.50 on Monday. Roads were closed and people in the local area warned to keep windows closed as a huge plume of smoke rose above the city. Two people were evacuated from a nearby building as a precaution. A Scottish Fire and Rescue Service spokesman said the blaze was later extinguished by firefighters remained at the scene overnight, damping down the building. Crookston Road remained closed on Tuesday.

  • High Levels of Shellfish Toxin

    Monitoring work undertaken on behalf of Food Standards Scotland has identified raised levels of shellfish toxins in Loch Leurbost in Lewis. Eating shellfish such as mussels, cockles, or razor fish from these areas may pose a risk to human health and notices to warn the public and casual gatherers have been posted at various locations on the shore. Commercial shellfish harvesters in these areas have been contacted by the Comhairle and steps taken to postpone harvesting until algae levels subside. It is a sensible precaution to avoid eating shellfish from these areas until further notice. The Comhairle is monitoring the situation and will remove warning notices when it improves.

  • Investigation into fuel spill seen in River Kelvin

    A fuel slick hundreds of feet long was seen in the water near the Riverside Museum. Environmental watchdogs are investigating after a fuel spill was seen in the River Kelvin in Glasgow. A fuel slick hundreds of feet long was seen in the water beside the Riverside Museum on Sunday. The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) is investigating whether the fuel will impact local wildlife. Investigators are also trying to trace the source of the spill. A Sepa spokeswoman said: "We have responded quickly to a report received this morning through our pollution hotline of fuel in the River Kelvin, near the slipway beside the Riverside Museum. "A Sepa officer is on site to investigate and assess local impacts. "Initial visual inspection identifies fuel clinging to the east bank of the river. "We will continue to investigate to establish the source of the fuel and are working closely with the Harbour Authority and other partner organisations."