DEFRA is standing by its conclusion that an algal bloom caused mass crustacea deaths on the region’s coast, despite an independent report pointing the finger at a toxic chemical.

Defra led the lengthy investigations involving multiple agencies that were carried out following the mass crustacea washup in October.

This week it was concluded that a naturally occurring algal bloom was responsible but an independent report commissioned by the Northeast Fishing Collective says that the chemical Pyridine was the most likely cause of the mortalities.

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Pyridine is a hazardous chemical with various uses in industry and agriculture.

It is released into the environment as a waste product from industrial processes such as steel manufacture, processing of oil shale, coal gas production, coking plants and from marine antifouling and anticorrosion applications.

The Collective’s report, written by Tim Deere-Jones, an independent consultant with 30-years’ experience investigating marine pollution events, compares levels of Pyridine found in crabs on the North East and North Yorkshire coast with sample crabs from Penzance in Cornwall.
The Northern Echo:

It found that the Penzance crabs had 5.929mg per kg in their system compared to crabs analysed in Saltburn which had 439.611mg of the toxic chemical in their system.

Crabs analysed in Seaton had 203.765mg/kg, in Runswick crab Pyridine levels were 22.0710mg/kg and further up the coast at St Mary’s Lighthouse, crabs had levels of 77.917mg/kh.

All of these were significantly higher that the 5.929mg found in the Penzance crabs, leading the report to state: “In the context of the relatively very high concentrations in NE coast crab samples it is very unusual and surprising that no further investigation of Pyridine in the environment has been conducted.”

The Northern Echo:

Fisherman as far down as Whitby and Scarborough have been impacted

The report goes on to suggest that these elevated levels were a result of dormant Pyridine being released by dredging the Tees for the Freeport which then entered the sea on local tides.

It added: “It is proposed that the higher concentrations reported for Saltburn crabs may be a function of dredge waste disposal plumes and in-estuary dredge plumes transported southward by residual water body movements.

“It is proposed that, the southward moving “residual” water has the capacity to carry combined (dredge and dump) plumes, with their associated pollutants, towards Runswick and points further south.”

The report also concludes that following Freedom of Information requests to investigating authorities, 'there is no empirical evidence to support the hypothesis that the mass mortality was caused by any form of algal blooming'.

Defra has maintained that dredging was not the cause of the crustacea wash up and a spokesman said that Pyridine levels detected in crab tissue are likely to be linked to biological processes and not necessarily from the environment.

However, the chair of the Whitby Fishermen's Association, James Cole, has accused the authorities of a ‘cover-up’.

He believes that the authorities don’t want to accept that dredging up toxic chemicals was the cause as it would harm the Government’s green energy agenda of which the Freeport is associated as it will help serve a green energy manufacturing hub on Teesside.

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Mr Cole said: “We are very fearful that this Pyridine has got on to our beaches and if it has, how long is it going to hang around for and is it linked to dogs getting sick and seals dying?”

“If Defra is just saying that it is caused by an algal bloom and then somebody’s dog is ill over it, we have a civic duty to bring it to the fore that it is possibly caused by Pyridine and why are they not investigating further when there is a public health issue?”

A Defra spokesperson told The Northern Echo: “Our sampling established that no Pyridine was present in the water or sediment samples we collected but was detected in crab tissue from both impacted areas and non-impacted areas elsewhere in the country.

“As such, any levels detected in crab tissue are likely to be linked to biological processes and not necessarily from the environment.

The Northern Echo:

Dead crabs, lobsters, limpets and even seals have washed up dead along the North East coast since October

“Significant testing and modelling has ruled out a number of potential causes including chemical pollution, sewage, animal disease or dredging.

“The most likely cause of the deaths seems to be a naturally occurring, harmful algal bloom.”

Defra says that satellite data shows that an algal bloom occurred along the Teesside coastal area from September 20 to 26 at high values and persisted until October 1, a week prior to the onset of the mortality event.

Algal blooms are a naturally occurring rapid growth of microscopic algae which can lead to the formation of green scum making water toxic.

When algae die, they are decomposed by bacteria, which can remove oxygen from the water, occasionally killing marine life.

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