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An investigation into the health implications of flaring at a Fife gas plant found it has had an unacceptable impact on the local population.
NHS Fife concluded the measures at Mossmorran, near Cowdenbeath, has caused “a considerable degree of physical and psychological disturbance” to people living in the area and urged bosses to do everything in their power to reduce their frequency, duration and intensity.
Experts said sleep disturbance, annoyance, anxiety and stress caused to residents as a result of the process could cause or aggravate ill health.
The report said there was no evidence of higher than expected rates of cancer in surrounding communities but that data could be analysed further in the future if concerns persisted.
It also said there was no evidence of significant impact in terms of air quality.
Almost a third of the 900 complaints to environment agency Sepa about Mossmorran during a recent bout of flaring in April and May referred to the health impact, and it was these which were analysed by NHS Fife.
The health authority concluded: “It is our view that the overall impact of flaring on people local to Mossmorran in recent years has not been acceptable and could plausibly affect health in the widest sense.
“NHS Fife would therefore recommend that every reasonable effort to be made to reduce the frequency, duration and intensity of these events.”
Responding to the findings, Linda Holt, spokeswoman for Mossmorran Action Group, called for an independent study to establish the full impacts of the plant
She said: “There cannot be a shred of doubt that when Mossmorran flares it’s bad for its neighbours’ health.
“It is disgraceful that it has taken 34 years for the authorities to listen to residents and acknowledge the obvious.”
She the study was only a first step and that many people who had been affected would not have contacted SEPA or thought health was a relevant factor.
“The study admits that more research and analysis on cancer rates in the Mossmorran area and on flaring by ethylene plants is needed,” she said.
“It is now time for the Scottish Government to heed the cross-party call for a properly-resourced independent study to establish the full health, social and environmental impacts of the plant.”
Most of the health concerns reported related to the impact of noise, light and smell during flaring, which is a safety mechanism at the plant. There were also reports of respiratory problems, headaches, eye irritation and nausea.
Mossmorran comprises Fife NGL Plant, operated by Shell, and ExxonMobil Chemical’s Fife Ethylene Plant.
Stuart Neill, of ExxonMobil, said the company was investing £140 million in modernisation and maintenance to improve operational reliability and reduce unplanned flaring.
He said the aim was to “not only reduce the frequency of flaring but also noise, light and vibration on the occasions when we need to use the flare.”
Teresa Waddington, manager of Shell Fife NGL said: “We hope this report provides reassurance that, after further extensive analysis, there’s no evidence of a significant effect on air quality around the Mossmorran site.”