‘Thousands of gallons of fuel’ leak into river as residents hit out

Suspected fuel contamination has affected a huge stretch of the River Esk in Musselburgh.

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Residents have been left outraged after taking it upon themselves to try and prevent a pollution incident in their local river from getting any worse.

A spill of what appears to be fuel in the River Esk in Musselburgh was reported to the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) and East Lothian Council on Friday.

The local authority warned owners not to allow their dogs to go into the water as “thousands of gallons” of “diesel” leak into the river.

Local residents and charities fought the spill with homemade booms and launched a recovery operation to save wildlife.

Swans at the River EskSupplied
Swans at the River Esk

“The whole of the river on this over-two-mile stretch, it’s diabolical, there’s a diesel film over the top,” said Chris London, a wildlife photographer.

“We’re not talking about a little spill. We traced the pipe along this burn. It’s discharging thousands of gallons.”

They called on SEPA and East Lothian Council to take urgent action.

Environmental consultant and local resident Patricia Enot took matters into her own hands on Friday.

Pollution entering the River Esk.Supplied
Pollution entering the River Esk.

“I put down some branches and planks down on Friday when I got to the site to try and create dams as a desperate attempt to stop the contamination until spill response happened. Unfortunately, I went back last night at 10pm and still nothing had been done,” she told STV News.

Local residents described being in tears at the sight of birds exhausted from trying to clean their contaminated feathers.

Around 48 hours after the incident was first reported, East Lothian Council officers attended the river and on Sunday morning they put absorbent pillows in place in order to protect the watercourse.

Scottish Water was called out but its engineers traced the contamination back to “private drainage which is not part of [their] network”.

Oily slick on the River Esk.Supplied
Oily slick on the River Esk.

On Friday, an East Lothian Council Countryside Ranger spotted an unusual residue that seemed to be discharging into the River Esk.

SEPA officers attended to investigate and took water samples.

As of Saturday SEPA officers had identified the source of the pollution and were confident it was no longer discharging into the water environment.

An update from East Lothian Council said: “It may take time to dissipate with continued discolouration and odour, which is expected to decrease in the coming days.”

Later on Sunday, SEPA said a contractor was being brought in to support clean-up work at the likely source – a manhole filled with “as yet unknown material” leading to a watercourse.

A SEPA spokesperson said the watchdog was unable to comment further as the investigation was live and there was the potential for enforcement or criminal action.

Ian Andrews posted on Twitter: “The burn is still flowing, the Esk still smells of diesel and the wildlife continues to suffer. It’s not just the swans; a Kingfisher I saw this morning looked decidedly scruffy and soiled.”

The Scottish SPCA attended the scene of the incident and took one swan to their wildlife rescue centre.

Scottish SPCA senior inspector John Toule said: “We attended the River Esk in Musselburgh yesterday, after reports to our helpline of swans and geese covered in oil.

“On arrival we did not discover any of the birds to be coated in oil, but several swans had what looked like contamination along the neck. One swan was uplifted and taken to our National Wildlife Rescue Centre to receive the care it needs.

“All other birds were cleaning themselves and seem alert. We are continuing to monitor the situation closely and any birds that show signs of deterioration will be taken to our wildlife hospital.

A swan affected by a suspected pollution event on the River Esk, Musselburgh.Supplied
A swan affected by a suspected pollution event on the River Esk, Musselburgh.

“We would advise members of the public not to approach the birds.

“If you suspect an animal to be injured or in distress, please call our helpline on 03000 999 999.”

SEPA asked for anyone with information to contact it’s 24 Hour Pollution Hotline on 0800 80 7060, via sepa.org.uk/report or to contact CrimeStoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.

Scott Crawford, SEPA’s national duty manager, said: “We know this pollution incident has been very concerning for local communities and are very grateful to local people for their information, support and understanding during this incident.

“Across the last 72 hours, specialist officers from SEPA and East Lothian Council have been responding to a pollution incident in the River Esk at Musselburgh. Whilst investigations are ongoing, officers have identified the location of the pollution discharge and are confident that it is no longer discharging into the water environment.

“However, it may take time to dissipate with continued water discolouration and odour, which is expected to decrease in the coming days.”