River Esk Pollution Incident - Friday 21 January

  21 January 2022

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency and East Lothian Council are continuing to work together to respond to the pollution incident in the River Esk at Musselburgh on Friday 14 January.

In recent days the specialist contractor, brought in by the council to support clean-up work, has installed and renewed booms in the watercourse which are focused on containing contamination.

This enabled a tanker to attend and remove as much of the polluted material being contained as it would allow.

Further remedial work is taking place including the removal of contaminated material from manholes enabling SEPA to undertake camera investigations, while a temporary weir has been put in place and officers have continued to monitor the area on foot.

Daily multi-agency assessment of progress made informs further remedial actions, including further deployment of the tanker as necessary.

While good progress continues to be made, the local community may still notice some residual material evident in the water/downstream. The expectation was that it will take some time for this to dissipate but the extent of discoloured water has reduced over recent days.

Whilst we are grateful for the public’s support, in the interests of everyone’s health and safety we would ask people to stay away from the areas where officers/our contractor are working. This will enable clean-up work and investigations to continue safely.

Sharon Saunders, Head of Communities, East Lothian Council, said:

“This has been a very concerning pollution incident and we are grateful to local residents for their understanding and support.

“Officers have been working hard since last Friday to contain the pollution with work continuing to take place, supported by our contractor, to progress clean-up work.

“Work is likely to continue in the days ahead and we’ll continue to closely monitor the situation, with a sharp focus on protecting the natural environment. We are continuing to work closely with and in support of SEPA, as the response to the incident continues.”

In working together to respond to the incident, SEPA and the council are being supported by Scottish Water and the Scottish SPCA.

SEPA continues to carry out a range of investigations and assessments to trace the source of the pollution. Officers are pursuing a number of lines of enquiry. 

Water samples have been taken from several locations and are being analysed by SEPA scientists to identify a range of contaminants found which will help us to identify the source.  

Survey activity carried out by SEPA ecologists to understand the impact of the pollution incident on the River Esk and its affected tributary has shown that while the receiving burn is currently heavily impacted, sampling in the River Esk shows that the short-term impact on the river is low. 

Chris Dailly, SEPA's Head of Environmental Improvement, said: 

“We know this pollution incident has been very concerning for local communities and are very grateful to people for their information, support and understanding during this incident. 

 “SEPA officers are pursuing a number of lines of enquiry in what is a complex incident and continue to provide advice and support to East Lothian Council. 

 “We will provide as much information as we can, within the restrictions of a live investigation. What is important is that our investigation is thorough, with our work done to a high evidential standard.”