Thurso High School Heating Oil Leak and River Thurso – Update 19 September

River Thurso environmental poster

The Thurso High School heating oil leak investigation work continues to identify the cause and the extent of the leak.  This involves considerable site analysis to enable The Highland Council to know the extent of the contamination and will inform the scale of the site clean-up.  The timescale for investigation works is expected to take up to two weeks.

The Highland Council’s Property Management team met SEPA onsite on Friday 15 September, and again on Monday 18 September, and mitigation plans were discussed.

SEPA can confirm that the leak has been stopped but residual oil is in the surface water drainage system and will likely cause an odour for some time. Due to the heavy rainfall some of the oil which remained in the system has washed through at greater quantities and oil spill contractors in liaison with SEPA are working to mitigate the impacts to the River Thurso.

SEPA advises that the impact on the environment is minor and likely to be short lived but advise the public to stay away from the water area and not to allow animals to enter or drink the river water until the clean-up has concluded.

The Highland Council’s Environmental Health Team is erecting advice signage and will also ‘warn and inform’ the public via social media platforms and the Council website.

Economy and Infrastructure Committee Chair, Cllr Ken Gowans said: “The Council is continuing to work with partner agencies, including SEPA to monitor and resolve the contamination caused by a heating oil leak from Thurso High School.

“Heavy rainfall (Monday 18 September) has increased the contamination of oil into the River Thurso around the Janet Street area and as a precautionary measure the public are now being asked to avoid allowing their animals/dogs to enter or drink the water from the River Thurso.”

Specialist contractors continue to manage oil saturation devices (known as ‘socks’) that have been put in place in various locations to absorb the heating oil. Works will commence today (19 September) to create a dam-like structure which will further limit the oil contamination leaving the High School site.

The Games Hall block will be subject to ongoing monitoring and data review to build an accurate picture of the extent of which any oil may be below the building. Remedial works for the treatment of any such contamination will be informed by the results of these studies.

General remedial works will commence on site as early as possible, and it is hoped that any overly disruptive works can be undertaken over the upcoming October holidays (9-20 October).

Specialist contractors will deploy photoionization detectors within the Games Hall this week to establish levels of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) present. If the results of this monitoring are favourable, use of the Games Hall may be permitted subject to suitable risk assessment and any required mitigation measures such as additional ventilation.

Until this time, the Games Hall will remain out of use and updates will be provided as the programme of works is determined. Slippage to the construction programme is highly likely as the ground works for the demountable units are impacted by the oil contamination. Ground investigation works continue and will inform next steps in due course.

19 Sep 2023