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A chemical plant whose flaring tower can be seen for miles around has been condemned as a “mark of shame” for Scotland as the country prepares to host a global climate change summit.
Community activists living in the shadow of the Shell-Exxon petro-chemical complex at Mossmorran in Fife have demanded the Scottish Government act on an environmental disaster on its doorstep before international leaders gather for COP26.
Exxon, Scotland’s third-worst polluter, lies just over 50 miles away from the Glasgow site where the summit will be held in November.
Community activist Bryce Goodall said residents’ lives have been devastated by the plant – but he claims the Scottish Government has ignored their plight.
Bryce said: “This plant has our community under siege. The pollution is unbearable and it has literally been making us sick for years.
“Our oxygen is being stolen from us by Exxon. We have been robbed of the human right to breathe fresh air.
“The world will be watching at COP26. The Scottish Government will be boasting at the summit of its grand plans to save the planet while a few miles up the road, it is doing nothing about an entire community suffering environmental carnage.
“It is a mark of shame for our country. We want COP26 to be the beginning of the end for the plant.”
The Mossmorran Action Group (MAG), has logged reports from 450 residents complaining of headaches, respiratory issues, anxiety, insomnia, skin rashes, dry eyes and throats.
Mothers have complained their children are so scared, they wet themselves when the plant is flaring.
Complaints are at their worst when excess gas is burned at the plant, sending dramatic flares into the sky in scenes described as “apocalyptic” by residents. The flaring lights up the night sky and can be seen across the Forth in Edinburgh.
Flaring occurs when the run-down plastics-making plant malfunctions and its natural gas feed from the North Sea has to be burned off into the atmosphere. This in turn lights up the night sky in Fife and pumps CO2 into the atmosphere in vast quantities.
The flares cause vibration, putrid smells and intolerable noise and light pollution.
Bryce said: “The flares light up the sky like a brilliant bright night sun. It looks apocalyptic.”
One mother told a meeting of MAG her small autistic child is so convinced the plant will explode during flaring he wets the bed.
Another resident told MAG: “The noise is like standing next to a jet engine and that’s when the windows are closed.
“It wakes my small children and they can’t sleep because they are scared.”
While another said: “My house shakes. Cups and glasses in the cupboards clink together and the doors rattle. The whole house lights up. It makes the kids so unsettled and makes me feel sick.”
Bryce, 31, who has autism and suffers from asthma, lives in Halbeath, five miles from the plant.
He said he lives in a constant state of heightened anxiety, with flaring sometimes dragging on for days at a time.
He recalls having a panic attack in his local supermarket car park because he felt suffocated by a flaring incident.
Bryce said: “The whole area was clouded in an acrid, afterburn smell. I was struggling to breathe.
“With my autism, there is sensory overload and I was in meltdown. I felt like I was being choked by Exxon and just kept saying, ‘Please let me breathe.’ I had an overwhelming feeling of anger, anxiety and powerlessness.
“There are so many people who have had similar terrible experiences.
“Why are people’s lives being allowed to be destroyed? It is even worse the closer you live to the plant.” It was estimated 13,800 tonnes of CO2 were emitted from the plant during three days of flaring last October, according to figures from the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa).
The Scottish Greens said that is equivalent to 9140 people taking return flights from Glasgow to New York. In May, Sepa confirmed it was seeking a prosecution following six days of flaring at the chemical works but the agency has very limited authority over the plant.
This week, Bryce spoke at an international press conference hosted by the climate justice movement, the COP26 Coalition, which took place to coincide with Earth Day on Thursday and president Joe Biden’s virtual Leaders’ Summit on Climate Change.
Sharing a platform with activists from Mexico to Africa, Bryce told the conference the community wanted a just transition to greener jobs to benefit the plant’s workers as well as the residents living near it.
When the worst of the flare is happening, Bryce can’t sleep as his whole bed vibrates.
He has to take medication for headaches and anxiety.
Bryce added: “During flaring, my eyes feel like there is sawdust in them and my throat is dry and tight.”
An NHS Fife investigation concluded high levels of anxiety in the community were having a negative impact on health.
Bryce lives in a new council property which benefits from an Airvac filtering system but rings of trapped soot form around the vents during flarings.
He said: “It concentrates the acrid smell which seeps into every corner of my house. It comes in if my windows are shut. There is no escape from it.”
ExxonMobil, which runs the plant as a joint-venture with Shell, said it began a £140million upgrade on the plant this month to contain flaring.
But activists and environmentalists claim the Scottish Government is failing to play its part by commissioning an independent expert study into the social, health and environmental impacts which the plant’s neighbours have endured since 1985.
Bryce said activists would use COP26 to shame the Government into action.
He said: “The local community has routinely been treated with contempt by the Scottish Government and the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency.
“We demand a firm commitment of closure, transition of the plant, not just for our community but for those already living with the impact of climate change and for future generations of local children.”
ExxonMobil was approached for comment.
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