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Air quality monitoring

Mossmorran Air Quality Network

SEPA has been monitoring air quality in community locations surrounding the Mossmorran complex since August 2019. To date, our monitoring has shown no breaches of the air quality objectives, but we continue to monitor as it is clear in hearing from the community that there are ongoing concerns about air quality in the area.

Monitoring equipment operates at locations around the complex to access long-term air quality conditions. To see the results please access our monitoring air quality network.

What SEPA and our partners do

Our role in regulating facilities like the Fife Ethylene Plant is to protect the environment and human health. To do that we work with our public partners, including Fife Council and NHS Fife.

Air quality objectives for various pollutants are set out in legislation to protect human health. In most cases the domestic air quality objectives for Scotland are the same as the limit values for the European Union (EU) Ambient Air Quality Directive.

The EU air quality limit values continue to apply for industrial activities regulated under the Pollution Prevention and Control (PPC) regulations. SEPA has a statutory responsibility to ensure that regulated processes do no result in, or contribute to, an exceedance of these air quality limit values.

Local authorities have a statutory duty to review and assess local air quality in their area and work towards meeting the Scottish air quality objectives, and air quality assessments are carried out annually by Fife Council.

NHS Fife is responsible for the protection and the improvement of its population's health.

We meet regularly with our partners, share the results of our air quality monitoring and keep them informed of any areas of interest around our regulation of the sites.

This supports Fife Council local air quality reviews and, combined with sharing information on community health concerns, allows NHS Fife to assess and report when they consider appropriate (e.g., report on the health impacts of flaring).

What we monitor and what we monitor for

In response to community concerns we have increased both the number of potential pollutants we measure and the geographic coverage of our air quality network. We have also developed an online tool that will enable you to see the air quality at each air quality monitoring analyser in nearly real time, whilst also being able to view historic data over recent months.

Our new monitoring approach consists of one monitoring station with reference analysers at Auchtertool which is complemented by a network of indicative analysers (AQMesh analysers) deployed in local communities around the Mossmorran complex. This gives a clearer understanding of air quality in the whole Mossmorran area.

The reference station has been places in Auchtertool as it is the most suitable (situated in a local community, access to a power supply, easily accessible for maintenance), and closest location in a downwind direction from the Mossmorran complex. This station will provide high quality data that can be directly compared to the Scottish air quality standards and objectives.

The AQMesh analysers are lamp post mounted multi-pollutant devices which will provide indicative data for the wider communities around the Mossmorran complex.

These analysers are easier to locate than the reference analysers due to their size and power requirements and can be installed in more accessible locations. They are useful in assessing short-term trends in pollutants; provide greater geographical coverage; and monitor or a wider range of pollutants including nitrogen dioxide, ground-level ozone, and particulate matter.

An indicative AQMesh analyser is co-located with the reference monitoring station which allows results from the different types of analysers to be compared and assists with quality control.

Our reference analyser in Auchtertool monitors PM2.5 and PM10 using beta attenuation, and nitrogen dioxide using chemiluminescence.

Our analysers are positioned in community locations in:

  • Aberdour;
  • Auchtertool;
  • Burntisland;
  • Cardenden;
  • Coaledge;
  • Cowdenbeath;
  • Kirkcaldy;
  • Lochgelly.

They monitor PM2.5 and PM10 using a light scattering optical particle counter and have electrochemical sensors to monitor nitrogen dioxide and other pollutants.

Why we select these locations

The sites provide air quality information to the local communities around the Mossmorran complex and were selected and installed with support from Fife Council.

The reference monitoring station was sited in Auchtertool as this is the closest community that is downwind of the prevailing wind direction from the Mossmorran complex.

The AQMesh analyser sites were installed on lamp posts with a suitable power supply.

Why we select these pollutants

We are monitoring for pollutants that are either expected to be released in a significant quantity from the Mossmorran complex (as well as being released by various other sources in the area such as vehicle emissions and domestic sources) or those which were highlighted as a concern by the community.

We are not monitoring for species which are released at levels that are significantly below permitted release levels (e.g., sulphur dioxide, where stack emission test results are below the emission limit values).

Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) - This gas is produced by the reaction of oxygen and nitrogen during combustion. It is emitted from the combustion plants at Mossmorran as well as domestic combustion appliances and vehicle emissions.

NO2 may have adverse effects on the health of the respiratory system. It can irritate the airways and lower resistance to respiratory infections such as influenza. NO2 (and other nitrogen oxides) is also a precursor pollutant leading to the formation of ground-level ozone which can have health and environmental impacts.

Particulate matter (PM) is the term used to describe solid or liquid particles suspended in the atmosphere. Particle size affects how deep a particle can penetrate into the lungs and system and be absorbed.

Particles can be generated mechanically (e.g.,  dust from vehicle tyres driving over roads), through combustion (e.g., burning wood or fuel) or through chemical reactions. Particles may also be made up of, or carry, substances which can affect health.

  • PM10: This is particulate matter with a diameter of less than 10 micrometres. PM10 are defined by international convention as being able to be deposited in the lung. As it has the potential to cause effects on health, it is regulated in the UK and must meet a certain level. There are many sources, including road traffic, agriculture, and personal or household activities (e.g., domestic wood-burning, cooking).
  • PM2.5: This is particulate matter with a diameter of less than 2.5 micrometres. These particulates can penetrate even deeper into the lung than PM10. This is also sometimes called "fine particulate matter" and has been associated with various health impacts, especially with regards to lung and heart health. Fine particles can cause inflammation and heart and lung diseases, and impair lung development in children. In addition, fine particles may carry surface-absorbed carcinogenic compounds into the lungs. There are many sources, including road traffic, agriculture, industry and personal activities.

We are also now monitoring for ground level ozone. This pollutant has been reviewed by the Mossmorran and Braefoot Bay Independent Air Quality Expert Advisory Group, which concluded that it is unliekly that emissions of NOx and VOCs arising from the operations at the Mossmorran plants and the Braefoot Bay terminal facilities would contribute to formation of ground level ozone in the local area. Rather, ground level ozone formation is more likely to be emissions from areas further away.

However, it was clear from talking to the community that there was a request for more information about ground level ozone levels in the area.

Ground level ozone is not emitted directly from man-made source in any significant quantities. In the lower atmosphere, ozone is primarily formed by a complicated series of chemical reactions initiated by sunlight.

These reactions can be summarised as the sunlight-initiated of VOCs in the presence of nitrogen oxides (NOx). The chemical reactions do not take place instantaneously, but can take hours or days, therefore ground level ozone measured at a particular location may have arisen from VOC and NOx emissions many hundreds or even thousands of miles away.

Ground level ozone irritates the respiratory system, exacerbating the symptoms of those people suffering from asthma and lung diseases.