The Shetland Oil Disaster: 'Green' group is accused of scare

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The Independent Online
GREENPEACE was yesterday accused of needlessly frightening Shetland islanders about long-term health hazards that might be caused by the oil spillage from the tanker Braer.

Dr Derek Cox, director of public health for Shetland, said that it was 'frankly irresponsible' for the environmental pressure group to have aired its fears at a public meeting held near the wreck yesterday.

He said that environmental health checks carried out so far 'confirm the views that were expressed early on about the likely very, very small risk to the physical health of the population.

'It seems to me now that the public health interest is shifting to the hazards associated with strains and anxiety, fears and uncertainty in the population.

'I have to say that there are certain groups and certain individuals who I feel are contributing to that to the extent that I am now beginning to think that the greatest public health hazard here is the groups and individuals who are scaremongering.' When asked to whom he was referring, Dr Cox singled out Greenpeace, which had earlier held a public meeting in the village hall at Urkie, just a short distance from where the Braer ran aground.

Alison Ross, spokeswoman for Greenpeace, defended the calling of the meeting and said that the aim had merely been to draw people's attention to what could happen in the long term. 'It was basically to counteract this view that because the oil is out of sight it should no longer be considered a problem,' she said.

Greenpeace criticised the occupational health hazard exposure measure which sets a limit of 100 parts per million of vapour accumulated over five eight-hour working days. It says that this is only relevant to healthy young men and is too high for the sick, or older people.

However, Dr Paul Leinster, an environmental health consultant, said: 'Only on one occasion have we had measurable levels of organic vapour greater than one part per million. That was when we measured levels up to six parts per million at Garth Ness on the day the ship was breaking up.' Hydrocarbon readings near the wreck were substantially less than those routinely recorded in London, and checks on workers who had cleaned up Shetland beaches showed low particle levels.

Malcolm Green, chief executive of Shetland Islands Council, said yesterday that because the weather had dispersed the Braer's cargo of 84,500 tonnes of light crude so quickly, he now regarded the immediate emergency as over.

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