Case study

Chemical incident: Midlands, England

The UK Government Decontamination Service's (GDS) involvement in a chemical incident.

Chemicals found in the garden and outbuildings

Following the death of a retired scientist, who had worked in the nuclear industry some years before, relatives were concerned that he may have done experiments at home. They approached the Health Protection Agency (HPA) now Public Health England (PHE) for help.

The HPA referred the request for help to the UK Government Decontamination Service (GDS). We were required to pass it to the local council because our remit is only to get involved if the local authority needs and requests help.

Environmental Health Officers from the local authority interviewed relatives and took a very tentative look at the property. They decided that they didn’t have the resources to investigate and asked for our help. Photographs provided by Environmental Health Officers of outbuildings suggested that potentially dangerous chemicals were present. Knowing that this scientist had worked in the nuclear industry added veracity to the suggestion of possible radioactive sources.

We identified a GDS specialist supplier that could deal with both chemical and radioactive remediation. Liaison by Environmental Health Officers alerted local residents to the work planned. However, contractors entering this property in protective clothing using breathing apparatus must have been a strange sight for this quiet town. Radioactive monitoring equipment quickly confirmed these precautions were necessary as radioactive items were located within the gardens and outbuildings.

The initial survey also identified chemicals that were in a dangerous condition which were made safe immediately. In total 17 radioactive items were also identified, which were put into safe and secure storage at the property.

One consequence was that the top level of soil had to be removed from the garden, which was not a very easy task in protective clothing and on an unusually sunny day. The moving of radioactive material is never straightforward, and agreements had to be made with the Environment Agency to move and dispose of this material.

The property was returned to the family in July. This was the result of successful multi-agency working over a period of 3 months, which included the safe disposal of chemicals, radioactive material, soil from the garden and the decontamination of the property.

Published 2 September 2014