The Shetland Oil Disaster: Stoicism prevails as the nose defeats technology: A few sore heads apart, most islanders are untroubled by fears for human health. Oliver Gillie reports

THE SMELL of oil still hangs in the air despite three days of gales, but few islanders are complaining of sickness.

At Coab, a hamlet overlooking Quendale Bay, Nanette Johnson, who keeps the general store, has not felt any discomfort or nausea. 'People don't like the smell but nobody has told me that it makes them feel sick.'

At the primary school in Dunrossness, three miles from Quendale Bay, the children are doing projects on the wrecked tanker. Two of the children in primary seven, a class of about 12, complained of headaches.

David Williamson, 11, who has been staying with his grandmother a mile or two from the bay, was also affected.

'I had a sore head,' he said. 'It starts when I'm working outside feeding the cows and gets better when I come inside.'

Jamie Leslie, who lives in Coab, said the smell was at its worst after chemicals had been sprayed from the air to disperse the oil, perhaps because it allows the oil to be more readily dispersed by the wind.

However, primary seven's class teacher, Ann Black, was sceptical about reports of sickness. 'None of the children I know have been off sick and nobody I know has been ill,' she said. Audrey Mullay, headmistress of the school, said that she had been advised to keep the children inside. Children come to the school from the whole of south Mainland and Mrs Mullay has had no reports of sickness resulting from the oil spill.

'The children are full of it,' Mrs Mullay said. 'It has completely taken over from the project work we had planned. They have to talk it out. But really they are much more worried about the effect on wildlife. Most of them have not really thought about effects on themselves.

'We have been advised there could only be a danger if the wind had dropped, the temperature went up and a toxic layer developed underneath,' she said.

This phenomenon is familiar to most people who frequent Britain's inner cities in summer when temperature inversion causes intense air pollution. But with the present gale force winds in Shetland there is no danger of that. Despite the smell of oil, the air in Shetland is fresh and much better than the pungent polluted air of cities which are full of toxic burnt hydrocarbon from exhaust fumes. Dr Gerald Forbes, an environmental expert with the Scottish Home and Health Department, said that doctors had been visiting homes near Quendale Bay and could find no signs of sickness among people living there.

Tests on the water supply coming from a loch near the bay had also failed to find any significant pollution.

However, Dr Forbes said that the Home and Health Department was considering mounting a medical study of the islanders' health to see if there might be any long-term effect. He emphasised that there was no long-term danger of cancer.

The dispersants sprayed on the oil had been approved by the Government for spraying at sea, said David Bedborough, land co-ordinator for the Department of Transport oil pollution control unit. However, he had no detailed knowledge of what, if any, effect the dispersants might have on human health.

The dispersants are surfactants which cause the oil to break up into small particles and form an aerosol which can be breathed into the lungs. The surfactants would assist any penetration of the oil through the membrane of the lungs.

Mr Bedborough said that several makes of approved dispersants were being used. But he did not have the brand names and was not prepared to supply them as a matter of priority because, he said, the information would not be useful. At least one brand of dispersant formerly used in Norway has been discontinued by the Norwegian government because of health fears.

Dr Forbes said that they could not detect any oil pollution in the air in Shetland following the disaster with equipment which measured down to parts per million.

'The human nose is much more efficient in detecting chemicals and can go down to two parts per billion.'

Lung testing equipment donated by a Buckingham firm is to be sent to Shetland. A spirometer, used for measuring lung volume, will be dispatched to Levenwick Health Centre, close to the disaster, early next week. It will be used to test those taking part in the clean-up, who could become overexposed to oil particles.

The Vitalograph Alpha can perform nine lung function tests and the company's marketing manager, Steve Fletcher, said yesterday: 'The spirometer can assist in diagnosing anyone immediately at risk from respiratory problems. It will also be useful to measure any long-term effects.'

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
A monstrous idea? Body transplants might no longer be science fiction
Science An Italian neurosurgeon believes so - and it's not quite as implausible as it sounds, says Steve Connor
Sport
Demba Ba (right) celebrates after Besiktas win on penalties
footballThere was no happy return to the Ataturk Stadium, where the Reds famously won Champions League
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
arts + ents
News
Mia Freedman, editorial director of the Mamamia website, reads out a tweet she was sent.
arts + ents
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
The write stuff: masters of story-telling James Joyce, left, and Thomas Hardy
arts + ents...begging to differ, John Walsh can't even begin to number the ways
News
Image from a flyer at the CPAC event where Nigel Farage will be speaking
news
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper

£23000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small, friendly, proactive...

Recruitment Genius: Photographic Event Crew

£14500 - £22800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developers - .NET / ASP.NET / WebAPI / JavaScript

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Software Developer is required to join a lea...

Austen Lloyd: Corporate Tax Solicitor - City

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: A first rate opportunity to join a top ranking...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower