National air quality squad deployed for first time

A new quick response team, set up to co-ordinate air quality monitoring in major pollution incidents, has been fully deployed for the first time.

The Air Quality Cell (AQC), set up following the Buncefield blast in 2005, yesterday (May 24) was in action at the scene of blaze at a chemical plant for the first time.

The team – a multi-agency group of technical experts chaired by the Environment Agency with the Health Protection Agency, Met Office, Health and Safety Laboratory and the Food Standards Agency – are advising the local health community, police and fire service after the fire in West Yorkshire.

Two monitoring teams have been deployed near to the Grosvenor Chemicals site, measuring air for potentially hazardous chemicals as the plume moves towards Huddersfield.

Early information from the scene indicates that the fire is likely to contain a mixture of chemicals, and the Environment Agency is testing for up to 25 different pollutants.

The Health Protection Agency is reviewing this data to assess the risk to public health.

The Air Quality Cell is providing information to the emergency services managing the incident, with details of nearby sensitive populations, predicted exposure levels and precautionary advice. Schools in the area have been closed as a precaution, and the surrounding roads were also closed.

The Met Office is providing up to the minute weather predictions and a forecast looking ahead several hours, while modelling is being provided by the Health and Safety Laboratory on the size and height of the chemical plume.

Air quality technical manager at the Environment Agency, Heather Barker, said: “The AQC is an essential service during major incidents to advise the emergency services on how to manage the effects on public health.

“There are up to 15 major incidents every year which could have an impact on air quality. This vital service will help to better protect people in emergencies.”

Luke Walsh

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