Wednesday 27 January 2010

After Buncefield

Instruments chosen for new multi-agency air quality unit
Pic: Royal Chiltern Air Support Unit

Environmental instrumentation company Quantitech has been awarded a contract worth in excess of £1million to provide advanced air sampling and analysis equipment to the multi-agency air quality cell that has been established following the recommendations of the Major Incident Investigation Board for the Buncefield incident.

Quantitech has supplied 18 sets of instrumentation including their advanced portable Gasmet FTIR multi-gas analysers in addition to TCR Tecora high volume Echo and low volume Delta air sampling equipment.

The company has also been responsible for the provision of a thorough training programme covering instrument operation, maintenance, calibration and service.

The project was created to develop an air monitoring and modelling capability for major pollution incidents affecting England and Wales. Participants include the Environment Agency, the Health Protection Agency, Public Health Wales, the Met Office, the Health and Safety Laboratory, the Food Standards Agency and Local Authorities.

Quantitech's Dr Andrew Hobson has been responsible for providing initial training on the instruments. He says, "We are delighted that the Gasmet DX4030 portable FTIR gas analyser has been chosen for this project because it was developed for applications in which almost any gas might need to be identified.

"The FTIR analyser is located in a backpack and effectively provides laboratory grade analysis in a field instrument. A Bluetooth connection to a handheld PDA provides simultaneous measurements for up to 25 compounds and the collection of a complete sample spectrum means that over 250 compounds can be analysed."

Summarising progress to-date, the Environment Agency's Gillian Hickey, service manager for monitoring in the Air Quality in Major Incidents project, says, "Over the last 6 months we have responded to a number of chemical air pollution incidents with enhanced interim arrangements.

"Our experience and the lessons learned at these incidents, which have included fires at tyre recycling sites, a waste management transfer site, an electrical recycling site and a publishing warehouse, are proving invaluable in the development of our monitoring and modelling capability, which will be fully established in April 2010."

Portable monitoring equipment is vital to the success of the project because of the rapid response times that have been established by the project. The Emergency Services will notify the Environment Agency within 30 minutes of a major pollution incident and the Environment Agency will then convene the Air Quality Cell (AQC).

CHEMET air modelling information from the Met Office will be available within 20 minutes with more detailed modelling provided later.

The Environment Agency will mobilise monitoring teams from one or more of eight locations and monitoring data will be provided to the AQC within 2 to 6 hours of the incident.

The Buncefield explosion near Hemel Hempstead in December 2005 raised a number of environmental issues and Quantitech's Dr Hobson says he is "delighted to have played a role in one of the very positive outcomes to have been initiated by this major incident," adding, "This is a very important contract for Quantitech and one that has enabled us to exercise the core capabilities of our company. Namely, leading edge technology in combination with the highest levels of technical support."

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