Last updated on 9 May 2012
Restrictions on Dalgety Bay seafood
The Food Standards Agency in Scotland has placed restrictions on the gathering of seafood and bait from an area of Dalgety Bay in Fife affected by radioactive contamination. This is a precautionary measure, following recent surveys that have detected radioactive items on the beach.
Although there is no commercial fishing or shellfish industry in the area, individuals are known to collect shellfish, despite warning signs indicating that seafood and bait should not be collected. Under the new restrictions, it is now an offence to remove seafood from the area. The restrictions will be reviewed in light of further evidence and/or action to remediate the contamination.
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, an intensive survey by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency begun in September 2011 found many radioactive items on the beach. Some had relatively high radioactivity levels, and may have been released by coastal erosion.
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, producing radioactive breakdown products including radon and lead. 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 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.