BOSSES of a controversial chemical plant have been condemned for “boycotting” a public meeting held to highlight fears over pollution.
ExxonMobil chiefs have come under fire for failing to attend the forum in Lochgelly called to address concerns about the Fife Ethylene Plant at Mossmorran.
James Glen, chair of Mossmorran Action Group, said ExxonMobil had also failed to attend a previous meeting.
“It is very contemptuous of them to boycott the meetings,” he said.
Nearly 200 people crowded into the hall to voice concerns about the plant after unplanned flaring – which lasted six days in April – caused widespread alarm.
People living as far away as Edinburgh reported a worsening of conditions like asthma as well as unacceptable noise levels and vibrations in the structure of their homes.
The incident triggered a record number of complaints to the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) over huge plumes of black smoke, chemical-smelling fumes and a rumbling noise emanating from the site.
ExxonMobil has insisted the flare posed no danger to the public and blamed the problem on a faulty section of cable. The firm has previously been served with final warning letters over a flaring incident in 2017.
As well as complaining about noise and pollution, nearby residents say they fear the ageing plant could explode.
Glen said flaring had been an issue since the plant first started operations in 1985 but had recently increased in duration and intensity.
“Residents are expected to tolerate days and nights of flaring without respite,” he said. “There are vibrations in people’s homes and the noise levels are so high it is like being next to an airport 24/7. It is affecting the sleep of both children and adults and there are reports of children wetting the bed.”
He added: “It is causing constant low-level anxiety and stress, with people reporting chemical smells as well as saying conditions like asthma are worsening.”
Glen said a map drawn up by the group showed that the issue was more widespread than initially realised, with people from all over Fife as well as Edinburgh reporting they had suffered effects from the flaring.
“People are feeling vibrations up to 14 miles away and there are concerns over the numerous mine shafts in the area and what it is doing to the structures of buildings,” he said.
FRIDAY night’s meeting heard calls for an independent investigation into the concerns.
“The issues have always been anecdotal but an independent study would put the problems in black and white and show there are issues that have to be addressed,” said Glen.
A petition has been submitted to Holyrood calling for a proper debate on the issue and Glen said Friday’s meeting had sent a clear message from the community that more had to be done to address concerns.
The meeting was attended by MPs and MSPs for the area and Glen said the group was pleased the problem was now gathering cross-party support.
“The reason we called it was because residents were frustrated at the lack of action over getting these long-standing issues addressed effectively,” he commented.
“We felt abandoned by the politicians and wanted them to see the impact the plant is having and to take the issues forward.”
The action group now has 2100 members on its Facebook page and an online petition calling for redress from the long-term environmental and social impacts of the plant has gathered nearly 4000 signatures.
Last week Fife councillors backed a motion seeking compensation for residents and communities affected by the flaring and said they would ask the Scottish Government to carry out an independent expert study of the plant’s impact, as well as debate its long-term future.
The Scottish Greens have called for the Mossmorran plant to be closed down. But a spokesperson for the ExxonMobil Fife Ethylene Plant said it had plans for a “multi-million-pound investment programme that will work to further minimise the frequency and impact of unplanned flaring”.
Sepa announced on Friday that further permit variations will be served on ExxonMobil Chemical Limited and Shell UK Limited, which shares the Mossmorran site, “to design a programme of monitoring to assess the impacts of flaring on the local community and the environment”.
“Whilst subject to a formal regulatory investigation, Sepa has a full range of enforcement powers available and will utilise these to require the impact of flaring be reduced,” the agency said.
“The unprecedented number of complaints we received is a clear message that the impacts on people’s lives is a major concern. Sepa has heard this message powerfully and clearly.”
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