The slow drip of worrying news about the radioactive contamination at Dalgety Bay does nothing for the people of Fife but engender fear.
Today's revelations in the Sunday Herald that Government scientists have discovered a near-doubling in the incidence of cancers among people living near the contaminated zone will inevitably cause disquiet locally.
With concern, though, comes frustration – and the people of Fife, indeed Scotland at large, have every right to be angry with the Ministry of Defence. If it wasn't for this newspaper pursuing the truth about the level of radioactive contamination under Freedom of Information legislation, the public would still have no knowledge of local cancer rates. It is better to know the truth, however potentially unpalatable, than to remain ignorant of possible health risks.
Of course, we have to keep these findings in perspective. Cancer can be caused by many things – lifestyle as well as environment. And we can not say for sure what lies behind this spike in the local rate. However, while the number of cancers found in the local population may seem low to the untrained eye, the increase in rates of two types of the disease – liver cancer and lymphoma – is of genuine concern. The incidence of both cancers is nearly double the level experts expected. This is alarming, regardless of the cause. The figures have come to light weeks after the UK Government's own Health Protection Agency issued advice to the effect that the risk to public health from radiation at Dalgety Bay was low. This position does not sit comfortably with the findings of the Committee on Medical Aspects of Radiation in the Environment, which advises Government ministers.
Mistrust is growing. The MoD has long played down the risk of radioactive debris at the beach. Yet, its own scientists have in the past refused to analyse the contaminated area for fear it would give them cancer.
It should be noted that there is no allegation of a cover-up at Dalgety Bay. What is wrong is the complete lack of transparency, not only about the state of the clean-up but also the potential risk to public health.
If the people of Dalgety Bay are to sleep easy in their beds then all the facts need to be placed in the public domain. If Government advisers and scientists have conflicting advice, then the information should be put before the people as a matter of course. Let them weigh up the facts and the risks themselves. A full investigation to establish the extent of links between contamination and cancer rates, if any, is now required. That is the only course of action that will restore the confidence, long since dented, of the people of Dalgety Bay.
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