Fife residents who first raised concerns about the Mossmorran petrochemical facility were correct. However, a new damning report shows that industry regulators and industry made mistakes on pollution and public safety.
The document also stated that the global petrochemical sector has often failed to disclose information about harms they have known for many years to public health.
Professor Andrew Watterson from the University of Stirling is a public health expert who stated that many of the long-term and middle-term psychological and physical health effects of the site on local residents had not been adequately studied, documented, or analysed over many decades.
He stated that there has been an international and national failure to recognize the harms done to local populations by air pollution, environmental Carcinogens, endocrine disruptionors at very low concentrations, their mixtures, and combined biological-physical insults from industrial Complexes.
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The Mossmorran site was operationalized in 1985 and includes the Shells Natural Gas Liquids plant (NGL) and the Fife Ethylene Plants (FEP), both run by ExxonMobil.
It has caused much controversy over the years. The report claimed that regulators had struggled with effective monitoring and inspection of these industries and holding them accountable.
It stated that inadequate UK-wide control standards were used, and regulators lacked staff and resources. In recent years, regulators were hindered by ideologically driven, weaker and deregulatory approaches which impacted on all those responsible for the oversight of the Mossmorran plant.
Watterson stated that while NHS Fife had safeguarding functions, access to accurate, up-to-date information, staff, and resources appeared to have limited their effectiveness.
He said that the industry, regulators and the Scottish Government must now rigorously apply precautionary principles to ensure increased investigation of possible pollution and harms near such plants. This is possible only with increased government funding and support.
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A strong and practical just transition policy is needed for the petrochemical, plastics, and chemical industries in Scotland that are linked to the use of green chemistry solutions for chemical processes and products.
He stated that many of Mossmorran’s site failures should serve as a wake-up call to the UK’s poor control standards. We also neglect the national industries’ efforts to reduce air pollution, environmental damage, and climate change at our own peril.
Watterson explained to The Sunday National that even within the UK, Scotland has sufficient powers to take a lead in dealing with many hazardous industries and global threats.
Events that have surrounded decades of community concerns surrounding the Mossmorran site demonstrate how difficult it can be for local residents to not only be heard, but also to address the real and valid issues they raised at both a micro and macro scale.
Ageing chemical plants have used processes that did not address these concerns as a result of our increasing knowledge about the effects of industrial activity on the physical, psychological, and sometimes combined effects.
The history of Mossmorran and similar sites shows serious chemical industry deficiencies, environmental injustice, significant enforcement and regulatory problems, and significant enforcement and regulations problems. We need to review Scotland’s chemical industries to strengthen and accelerate Scottish Government policies for just transition for workers in this industry.
Green chemistry initiatives should not be considered marginal and ignored by big chemical companies in Scotland. They should be linked to well-tested toxics use reduction strategies. Recent European research has highlighted the need to use both economic and public health incentives for developing alternatives to hazardous chemicals. This is how we protect public health, the environment and the economy.
Oil giant Shell immediately responded, and a spokesperson for Shell said: Our plant operates within some of the strictest environmental and safety regulations of any industry, overseen both by the Health and Safety Executive and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency.
Fife Council’s independent air quality monitoring team, which includes the NHS, has consistently reported that emissions from plants pose no significant threat to the health of the surrounding community.
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Fife Councils head, Nigel Kerr, mentioned the air quality monitor group, as well the Mossmorran/Braefoot Bay Community & Safety Liaison committee, which was established to provide a forum for local communities upon the site’s opening.
Ian Buchanan (from Sepa) stated that they had made it clear that compliance to Scotland’s environmental laws is non-negotiable. He said that the flaring at Mossmorran has to be an exception and not a routine.
He stated that the firm’s focus is on reducing flaring and the impact of flaring on communities.
The Scottish Government stated it was continuing to listen to local communities regarding flaring incidents. A spokesperson stated that the Scottish Government will review the evidence in this report and decide if further actions are necessary.
Alba MP Neale Hayne (below), whose Kirkcaldy constituency covers Mossmorran said that there was no question about serious health consequences that unplanned flaring has had on the communities around it.
He stated that while it was encouraging that operators made significant progress with their improvement program significantly reducing the use high-flare, this report highlights areas in all agencies that require renewed attention.
The SNP/Green Scottish Government must ensure that key agencies like Sepa, NHS Fife and Fife Council receive ring-fenced investments to ensure they can fulfill their obligations, implement IEPA’s recommendations, and address the evidence gaps highlighted in this report.
The Mossmorran Action Group (Mag) welcomed Watterson’s report. Mag stated that it was great to see the views and experiences of Mossmorran residents validated in an academic expert. Mags impact map lists 450 reports about the plant’s environmental and health effects.
A 2019 NHS Fife study found that there was a significant amount of psychological and physical disturbance in the area of Mossmorran. However, no follow-up research has been done.
The operators, Sepa and the NHS have no real interest in establishing the damage done to fence-line communities by the plant since 1985.
ExxonMobil representatives were contacted for comment.