Last updated on 15 February 2012
Seafood sampling at Dalgety Bay
A sampling programme for seafood from Dalgety Bay, Fife, is to be carried out after radioactive items were found on the beach. The sampling will be managed jointly by the Food Standards Agency in Scotland and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA).
Although signs at Dalgety Bay advise people not to remove seafood and bait, some continue to collect shellfish from the area. Sampling seafood, such as cockles, mussels and winkles, should help to identify whether additional measures to protect the public are required. It will form part of the joint radiological monitoring programme run in Scotland in liaison with SEPA.
The radioactive material at Dalgety Bay is thought to originate from luminescent paint containing radium. This was used by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) on aircraft when the area was in military use as Donibristle Airfield. The site was decommissioned after the Second World War, and waste material containing radium may have been buried in man-made ground adjacent to the coast.
Items containing radioactive radium-226 have been detected at Dalgety Bay since 1990. Despite clean-up operations undertaken by the MoD, a SEPA survey begun in September 2011 found there were many radioactive items on the beach. The items, some of which had relatively high radioactivity levels, may have been released by recent coastal erosion.
In 2006 and 2010, the FSA in Scotland, in collaboration with SEPA, monitored cockles, mussels and winkles from Dalgety Bay and found no unusual levels of radionuclides.
Science behind the story
Radium-226 is a radioactive element that decays by alpha particle emission and has a half-life of 1,600 years. In the past it has been used to luminise instruments, such as aircraft dials, so that they can be seen in the dark.
Some of the radioactive items break down easily, making it possible for small particles to be taken up by seafood such as cockles and mussels. If a person eats the seafood containing radioactive material, it may cause damage to their digestive tract and an increased risk of developing cancer.