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 email the SEISS team at phs.seiss@phs.scot

SEISS newsfeed

  • Major fire at Perth recycling centre extinguished

    A fire which burned all day at a recycling centre on an industrial estate in Perth has been extinguished. Fire crews were called to Shore Recycling at the Friarton Industrial Estate at 04:30 on Sunday. The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service said on Monday morning that the fire had been extinguished and roads in the surrounding area had reopened. It added that there will not be an impact on the opening of schools in the area. Fire crews will remain at the site with officers from the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) to monitor the situation. Sepa has asked people to avoid the area so that recovery operations to continue. Six trucks and two height appliances were called out to help tackle the blaze on Sunday, when plumes of smoke could be seen billowing across the city.

  • Blue green algae incident, Dumfries

    A PUBLIC health warning has been issued in Dumfries and Galloway after a blue green algae bloom was spotted locally. It has been reported on Loch Ettrick near Thornhill. Dumfries and Galloway Council released a statement today highlighting the toxicity of the algae to dogs and livestocks and advised against letting them, and humans, drink from contaminated sources. A spokesman said: “This advice remains in place throughout the season as Loch Ettrick blooms fairly regularly each year. “If you detect blue green algae, please report this to environmentalhealth@dumgal.gov.uk.” Meanwhile, Dumfries and Galloway NHS have also put out an algae warning to bathers. Speaking about the risks to swimmers and pets, public health consultant Dr Andrew Rideout said: “There are dangers around swimming in natural waters at any time, but at this time of year a key concern is the presence of blue-green algae. “Although it’s referred to as algae, it’s actually a group of bacteria called cyanobacteria. It usually can’t get a foothold in moving water, but in areas of warmer, still water it can start to form – and it really does pose a significant risk. “Blue-green algae emits toxins. A human or pet swimming through it with their head just above the water can be at serious risk.” The bacteria cannot be seen by the human eye unless it clumps together. At this point, it can look like green flakes, greenish bundles or brown spots. Dead fish can sometimes be seen in areas of water with high concentration of the toxic bacteria. Dr Rideout listed symptoms of blue-green algae poisoning as vomiting, diarrhoea, seizures/fitting, weakness/collapse/unconsciousness, disorientation/confusion, drooling and breathing difficulties. He added: “Anyone who does venture into natural waters should be extremely vigilant for the presence of this algae, which may not always be immediately apparent. “Walking past waters with blue green algae should not pose a risk, but anyone who does enter these waters and starts to feel unwell should seek medical advice immediately.” Blue green algae has also previously been spotted at Carlingwark Loch and Milton Loch near Castle Douglas and at Castle Loch in Lochmaben.

  • People warned not to fish in water near powerplant after oil leak

    People are being told not to fish around a nuclear power station after an oil leak from an electricity substation on the site. East Lothian council yesterday advised visitors to Thorntonloch and Skateraw beaches, located next to Torness power station, to stay out of the water and keep their pets away. Now they have asked people not to fish in and around the beaches as well. The alert comes after an electrical fault at the substation caused an automatic fire protection system to activate leading to a mix of oil from the transformer and cooling water overflowing into the drainage system. Reports of discoloured water saw the local authority advise people using Thonrtonloch and Skateraw baeaches to stay out of the sea as water quality investigations were launched. The fishing ban is in place for “at least the next 24 hours” while waiting for the results of the water tests. It added that while it is believed the situations is improving clean up work has been taking place with teams using spill kits to block drains and contain and collect as much oil as possible. The council said it is believed the overflow has stopped but an absorbent boom had been installed as an additional safeguard. The substation is operated by SP Energy Networks and located within the grounds of EDF’s Torness Power Station. Tom Reid, the council’s head of infrastructure, said: “Teams responded swiftly to this incident and, working together with partner agencies, we are closely monitoring and managing the situation to protect the local environment. “We do believe it is an improving picture but, given the nature of the incident and the proximity of the beaches at Skateraw and Thorntonloch, we continue to ask members of the public to refrain from entering the water here at this time. “We also ask that owners do not allow pets to enter the water and that people refrain from fishing. “We will issue a further update to the public as our response to this incident continues.”

  • Crews battle wildfire near west Highlands village

    Firefighters have been battling a moorland wildfire in hills near Kyle of Lochalsh in the west Highlands. Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) crews have been at the scene since Wednesday morning. A helicopter was being used on Thursday morning to waterbomb the fire, which was burning along a three mile (5km) front. A SFRS spokesperson said there were no reports of anyone being injured in the incident. The incidents follow a SFRS warning earlier this month of a heighted risk of wildfires due to dry and windy conditions. SFRS said it was alerted to the fire at Erbusaig, north of Kyle of Lochalsh, at about 10:20 on Wednesday.

  • Firefighters tackle huge gorse blaze in the Highlands

    Fire crews tackled a huge gorse blaze in the Highlands on Sunday evening. Emergency services were called to the scene on in Seabank Road, Invergordon at around 7.08pm. A heavy rescue unit from Inverness also attended the scene and provided additional scene lighting. Smoke could be seen for miles as the huge flames from the gorse fire filled the air. No injuries have been reported from the incident. A Scottish Fire and Rescue Service spokesperson said: “We were alerted at 7.08pm on Sunday, March 20, to reports of a wildfire affecting an area of gorse in Seabank Road, Invergordon. “Operations control immediately mobilised four fire engines, a heavy rescue unit and a community response unit to the location and firefighters extinguished the fire. “Crews left the scene after ensuring the area was made safe.”

  • Blaze breaks out in Highlands during wildfire warning

    Firefighters have been tackling a large wildfire in the Highlands. The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) was alerted to the blaze on Knockfarrel Hill, between Dingwall and Strathpeffer, at 11:11. Crews have been tackling the fire on an open area of gorse on two fronts of about 600m (1,968ft) and 800m (2,625ft) long. The incident comes during an SFRS extreme warning of wildfire risk in west, north and north east Scotland. The warning has come amid dry and windy conditions and is in place until Wednesday.

  • Hotel evacuated due to mystery smell in Edinburgh

    A hotel was evacuated while investigations into a mysterious smell in Edinburgh were carried out. Two fire engines and Scottish Gas Networks (SGN) were sent to St Andrew Square at 16:15 on Saturday following reports of a suspected gas leak. However, SGN later reported that no gas leak had been found. The fire service left the scene just after 19:30 and guests were allowed to return to the hotel on the square once it was declared safe. Residents took to social media to voice their concerns, with one tweeting "Edinburgh stinking of gas", while another queried: "What's the weird smell in Edinburgh New Town?" SGN tweeted: "The environmental smell in Edinburgh is moving from EH15 to the town centre. "We're experiencing a high number of calls and our engineers are carrying out checks at various locations. "The smell in the air isn't being caused by gas, but if you have safety concerns call 0800 111 999."

  • River pollution in Musselburgh investigated by Sepa

    Work to clean up a pollution incident in the River Esk at Musselburgh is under way. On Friday a countryside ranger spotted an unusual residue that appeared to be discharging into the river. Specialist officers from Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) identified the likely source of the discharge on Saturday. This was a manhole filled with an as yet unknown material leading to a watercourse. Absorbent pillows were put in place by East Lothian Council in order to protect the river. The pollution discharge also gives off a smell which could linger for days, residents have been warned. Sepa and East Lothian Council are arranging for a contractor to remove the pollution material while its joint investigation into the cause continues.

  • Firefighters tackle blaze at car breaker yard in Denny

    More than 70 firefighters have been tackling a fire at a car breaker yard in Denny, near Falkirk. The alarm was raised at about 21:30 on Monday. The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service sent 10 fire engines and seven support units to the scene in Winchester Avenue. They found a well-developed blaze in a building and worked through the night to bring it under control. Firefighters were still at the scene at 06:30 on Tuesday. There were no reports of any casualties.

  • Wildfire warning as firefighters tackle Oban blaze

    Warnings have been issued about the high risk of wildfires as firefighters tackled a a major grass fire above a West Highland town. Fire crews spent 16 hours working to extinguish the blaze above Oban which broke out on Friday afternoon. After recent dry weather, Scottish Fire and Rescue Service says there is a "high to extreme" risk of fires across north east, central and east Scotland. NatureScot urged people enjoying eased Covid restrictions to be vigilant. The fire on the hillside above Oban was reported at about 15:30 on Friday. Four fire appliances were sent, with crews from Inverary and Appin called in to help local firefighters. They used beaters and backpack extinguishers to limit the spread of the fire before nightfall. Crews returned the following morning and the fire was put out at about 07:30.

  • Firefighters tackle blaze at Fife Zoo

    Firefighters are tackling a blaze which broke out in the roof space of a building at Fife Zoo. Fire crews, including four appliances and a specialist resource, were called to the zoo - near Collessie - at 12:11 on Sunday. A spokeswoman for the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service said one person had been treated by paramedics for smoke inhalation. Fife Zoo confirmed on social media that all of its animals were safe. The zoo is home to a range of animals, including lemurs and zebras. It reopened on 29 June after closing in March due to the coronavirus lockdown.

  • Derelict building fire in Glasgow sparks 'horrendous bang'

    A fire has torn through a derelict building in the east end of Glasgow, causing an explosion which was heard from miles away. Emergency services were called to the scene near Duke Street at about 20:40 on Thursday. Locals reported hearing a "horrendous bang" and posted images of thick black smoke appearing across the skyline. About 30 firefighters have worked through the night tackling the blaze and six crews remain at the scene. There were no reports of any injuries and locals have been urged to keep their windows shut.

  • Fire crews tackle large blaze at Dundee industrial estate

    Firefighters have been tackling a large blaze at an industrial estate in Dundee for more than 12 hours. The alarm at Baldovie Industrial Estate on Forties Road was raised at about 20:15 on Sunday. The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) sent four fire engines and other support appliances to the blaze. Some local roads were closed and police asked people to avoid the area. Nearby residents were also advised to close their windows because of the smoke. Firefighters were still at the scene at 09:00 on Monday. Police Scotland tweeted: "Police and SFRS are dealing with a fire at Baldovie Industrial Estate, Dundee. Drumgeith Road is closed between Summerfield Avenue and Berwick Drive. "Police request members of the public to avoid this area and for local residents to close their windows due to excessive smoke." A spokesperson for SFRS said: "We were alerted at 20:14 on Sunday, 7 June to reports of a fire within an industrial estate on Forties Road in Dundee. "Operations Control mobilised four fire and one height appliance to the scene and firefighters are working to extinguish the flames. "Crews will remain in attendance for some time."

  • Fire crews tackle blaze at Dumfries recycling plant

    The fire service was called to the incident in a two-storey building at Solway Recycling, Shawhead, near Dumfries, at about 16:00 on Sunday. Up to 45 crew members and nine appliances were in attendance at the fire at its peak. There were no reports of any injuries and three appliances remained on site on Monday morning for damping down. At the height of the blaze dark clouds of smoke could be seen for miles around. Solway Recycling uses waste plastic to make a host of products including agricultural equipment such as sheep pens and lambing shelters.

  • Crews tackle wildfires as weekend warning issued - West Lothian

    Fire crews are dealing with a number of wildfires across Scotland after a warning was issued for the weekend. The largest, in Eastfields, Fauldhouse, West Lothian, covers an area of 100 sq m, and was reported at 14:45. More than six hours later the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service said seven pumps remained at the scene. Earlier it warned there is a "very high" risk of wildfires until Monday and urged people to "exercise extreme caution" in rural environments. Crews in the east are also dealing with a 30 sq m fire on heath land between Armadale and Bathgate.

  • Crews tackle wildfires as weekend warning issued - South Lanarkshire

    Fire crews are dealing with a number of wildfires across Scotland after a warning was issued for the weekend. In the west a blaze was reported in Coalburn, South Lanarkshire, covering 600m by 300m. Nine pumps attended the initial call and six remain at the scene on Friday night.

  • Kishorn wildfire: Helicopter water bombs blazing hillside

    helicopter has been brought in to water bomb a wildfire in the Highlands. The fire was spread across several square kilometres of land near the village of Achintraid in Wester Ross. Firefighters and six appliances have spent 11 hours tackling the blaze, which broke out on Monday afternoon on a hillside overlooking Loch Kishorn. The volunteer-run Balintore Fire Station posted video footage of the helicopter swooping low over the trees. The team said everyone got home safely, and were "ready to go again".

  • Huge fire engulfs River Tay reed beds near Errol

    Firefighters have tacked a blaze which took hold in reed beds on the River Tay between Dundee and Perth. Large plumes of smoke could be seen rising from the river bank near the village of Errol for most of the day on Monday. Police asked people to remain indoors and to keep their windows closed while the smoke travelled. It is believed the fire started at about 11:30 and quickly spread along the riverbank. A helicopter could be seen scooping water from the river and dumping it on the flames. A total of nine appliances helped tackle the fire. The Tay reed beds are an important home for wildlife, including marsh harriers, water rails and bearded tits.

  • Firefighters tackle forest and moorland blaze

    Dozens of firefighters and forestry workers have been fighting a forest and moorland blaze in Dumfries and Galloway. The fire service said it broke out on Thursday afternoon near the village of Mossdale. At its peak nine fire appliances and a helicopter were involved along with forestry and estate workers. Fire crews remained at the scene on Friday as the operation to bring it under control continued. A Scottish Fire and Rescue Service spokesman said there were no reports of casualties and that fire crews were likely to remain at the scene for some time. Bill Tyre, senior harvesting manager with Scottish Woodlands, said: "The helicopter was brought in last night and he was applying water until darkness came down." He added: "We managed to get ferry pumps and hoses up to the firefighters with one of our forestry machines which was on site and being used to bring logs out. We have been doing that this morning as well."

  • Crews return to wildfire at Kilpatrick Hills reservoir

    Crews have returned to a wildfire near a reservoir in West Dunbartonshire for a second day. Firefighters were called to the scene on the Kilpatrick Hills at about 18:45 on Monday. Three trucks were originally sent out but the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service said crews left at 22:30 as conditions were too dangerous. They returned at 06:00 on Tuesday. There are currently no reports of any casualties. Images emerged showing plumes of smoke billowing across the skyline hours after the fire was discovered.