Environmental Public Health

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Environmental Public Health

Chemical and Environmental Incidents

A chemical incident is when a chemical is released into the environment either accidentally or deliberately. The physical state, amount and how dangerous the chemical is will determine how the incident is managed and eventually resolved.

Chemical incidents may involve a plume of gas, smoke and fire or contamination of water or land. Each of these has there own particular challenges for those trying to control the release and cleaning up any contamination to the environment, while ensuring the safety of the population surrounding the incident.

Environmental incidents are generally large scale incidents that affect a significant area. Examples of environmental incidents include; wild fires, volcanic ash plumes (carried over from Iceland) and flooding due to storms and high volume rainfall. These incidents will require joint working between a number of different organisations over a number of different geographical districts.

The key role of HPS in the event of a chemical or environmental incident is to provide specialist operational support and advice to stakeholders. The scientific and medical staff at HPS is able to provide specialised advice on the public health implications of hazardous exposures, to stakeholders that chemical and environmental incidents pose. HPS gives this support both during acute incidents and for chronic exposures that result from incidents that extend over a longer duration.

HPS operates the Scottish Environmental Incident Surveillance System (SEISS) which is the mechanism for conducting surveillance of environmental incidents, involving risk to human health, at a national level in Scotland. Further information is available on the SEISS webpage.


Last reviewed: 17 April 2013