Local Concern Over Fife Ethylene Plant Remain Ignored by Regulators

The petrochemical plant owned by Exxon Mobil and Shell continues to cause disturbance and anxiety within the community, with little progress by regulatory bodies to consider its impact on health.

Mossmorran is a dual complex established in 1985 and is made up of two chemical plants; The Fife Ethylene Plant, owned and operated by Exxon Mobil, is responsible for converting ethane into ethylene for the manufacturing of plastic. The second plant is The Fife Natural Gas Liquids (NGL) Plant which is operated by Shell U.K., known for its cooling and heating processes of separating liquids and gas for energy production.

These plants are claimed to be non-disruptive and in line with safety regulations implemented by the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) and an air quality monitoring group run by Fife Council. However, there are still detrimental impacts on the local community’s health and the environment.

The combined complex released 1,090,052,982Kg of carbon dioxide in 2017 alone, making them two of the country’s biggest industrial air polluters. However, it is not only their carbon dioxide emissions that remain problematic. The complex also releases a host of pollutants, such as benzene which can persist in water sources for weeks and can damage crops and other wildlife.

Benzene is also a proven carcinogen, which with long term exposure, can cause a variety of cancers. Even with minor exposure over a period of time, benzene can exacerbate respiratory conditions such as asthma. James Glen from the Mossmorran Action Group goes onto explain:

“We had a doctor that resigned his post because he felt as soon as the plant opened asthma cases went through the roof.”

Asthma cases in the surrounding areas of the plants have risen since 1985, and Cowdenbeath has a higher prevalence rate of asthma cases, estimated at 7.3%. Comparatively, Fife as a whole is at 6.9% according to the NHS Fife Cowdenbeath Locality Profile. When asked about the state of health within the local communities, Glen says:

“Speaking anecdotally to the pharmacists in the area, they have noticed that our children are on asthma inhalers that are a significantly higher dosage than other areas like Kirkcaldy or someplace in East Neuk.”

More thorough regulations have been put in place to monitor the complex as well as the installation of a new enclosed ground flare, which should reduce flaring, noise, vibrations, and smoke. However, there is still no progression in carrying out health research on the impacts that the complex has had on the immediate population, which is just under 20,000. Therefore, they remain unaware of how living next to a petrochemical plant may be affecting their health.

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