Calls have been made for a full review into the working practices at the Mossmorran plant after a bout of flaring released ominous clouds of black smoke into the atmosphere.
Residents had initially been plagued by extended flaring last week which officials from plant owners ExxonMobil Chemical Limited said was due to a “process upset” and issued an apology adding “we would like to assure residents it is our aim to keep flaring to a minimum”.
But shortly after 7pm on Sunday night the plant at Cowdenbeath began to flare again – without residents having been informed - and this time it spewed out thick, black smoke, which some fear could contain toxic elements.
The Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) confirmed it had received a considerable number of complaints from members of the public and Alex Rowley, Scottish Labour’s deputy leader and MSP for Mid Scotland & Fife, has written to the Scottish Government to ask for an independent review to take place at the site.
And NHS Fife convened a meeting with Health Protection Scotland, SEPA and Fife Council to agree an action plan.
Mr Rowley said: “We have seen the number of flaring incidents increase over the years, however, I have never seen the likes of the incident we saw on Sunday, where accompanying the aggressive flame from the top of the plant we saw a thick acrid cloud of black smoke.
“People are understandably concerned by these incidents, and do not particularly feel reassured in the safety of the plant.
“Given that these incidents have increased in recent years, and the fact that they are accompanied by an incredibly loud noise which can be heard for miles, and now alongside this outpouring of thick black smoke across Fife; I am asking the Government Minister to deliver an independent review into the site.”
It is understood that Sunday’s incident was not connected to the previous problem at the beginning of last week, raising further concerns of the plant’s levels of safety.
A spokesman for SEPA said the agency was making arrangements to carry out a full investigation into the causes of the flaring and will liaise with the Mossmorran and Braefoot Bay Air Quality Review Group.
They intend to find out what action ExxonMobil intends to take to prevent any recurrence, adding that enforcement action may be necessary.
He said: “SEPA regulates the environmental aspects of these sites under the Pollution Prevention and Control Regulations, and both operators (Shell and ExxonMobil) hold licences which control conditions relating to flaring.”
He added: “This has clearly been a prolonged and unsatisfactory situation.”
Dr Chris McGuigan, Consultant in Public Health for NHS Fife said he was pleased that SEPA had responded so quickly.
“We already know of at least one instance where emission of black smoke from flaring at Mossmorran exceeded the fifteen minute limit imposed as an operating condition,” he said, “we are pleased that SEPA has committed to a full investigation, which will look at the causes of the incident and the steps being taken to ensure it does not happen again.
“We are also hearing people have been experiencing a range of symptoms which they relate to the flaring, such as breathing difficulties, irritated eyes and even disturbed sleep due to the noise accompanying the flaring.
“Clearly this is a distressing and worrying situation for the community and we would advise anyone experiencing symptoms that they believe may be related to the flaring to get help from the their local pharmacist, the NHS Inform website at www.nhsinform.scot or NHS 24.
“Symptoms are likely to be short lived but if they persist arrange to see your GP.”