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Protecting Human Health After Chemical Disasters

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture

The Health Protection Agency has developed a new environmental sampling process to help assess the risks to human health from major chemical disasters.

Delegates at the Health Protection Agency’s annual conference in Warwick will find out how soil, herbage and dust sampling processes will allow Agency scientists to assess the short and long term health risks from chemical contaminants following major disasters such as the Buncefield fuel depot fire in Hemel Hempstead, in 2005.

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There is currently no single UK agency responsible for environmental monitoring of surface soils and herbage for the purposes of health risk assessment following a major incident involving the release of noxious chemicals.

The Agency has therefore built on its existing sampling capacity for radioactive contamination to develop teams capable of collecting soil and herbage samples after the fallout from large chemical incidents.

The Agency can now respond to a major chemical disaster by rapidly deploying up to 20 scientists to gather key data on environmental contamination from a range of inorganic and organic chemicals. Several different types of sampling kits can be used to ensure that the samples are properly collected for future laboratory analysis.

Agency scientist Andrew Kibble said: “This capacity allows the Agency to have its own in-house soil and grass sampling capacity. Procedures have been developed that provide sampling guidelines for our monitoring teams which will enable them to sample the right locations, at the appropriate frequency to ensure the effective assessment of potential sites following major chemical incidents.”