Home Office EIR request - internal review and disclosure re Westminster Tracer Gas Trials

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The Home Office has conducted its Internal Review into our Environmental Information Regulations 2004 request, about the Westminster Tracer Gas Trials, which they tried to fob off onto DEFRA.

Essentially, they have disclosed the information which was asked for,i.e. details of exactly which "colourless, odourless, non-toxic" gases, and the quantities which were released into the atmosphere, in the Marylebone / Westminster area of London, to help refine computer models of urban airflows, for chemical and biological warfare or terrorism planning purposes.

As suspected, the gases released are non-toxic, but that does not mean that they are harmless - they are,in fact very potent Greenhouse Gases.

It does seem that they were originally contemplating using Sulphur Hexafluoride, which is the most potent Greenhouse Gas ever tested, which , due to its inertness and stability, is estimated to be equivalent to 23,900 times the equivalent amount of Carbon Dioxide, in terms of its Greenhouse Gas warming effect on the atmosphere, over 100 years.

As it happens, the 3 gases chosen, are the next 3 most potent Greenhouse Gases, equivalent to hundreds of tonnes of Carbon Dioxide, even for the small amount used in the Tracer Gas Trials, which planned to release a few grammes, on about 30 occasions.

This is a Carbon Equivalent which would be similar to a car, circumnavigating the planet several times.

Under the Environmental Information Regulations, the Home Office should have published the Environmental Impact Assessment pro-actively, before the gas emissions began. Why could they not have published these details as part of Home Office Minister Tony McNulty's original Statement ?

For clarity, the corrections in the Home Office email, to the number sequence of our original Questions, have been omitted:

From: [civil servant]l (IMS) <[civil servant]@homeoffice.gsi.gov.uk>
To: [email address]
Subject: 7113-[name]-2007.07.18-Gas Trials-Response
Date: Wed, 18 Jul 2007 08:57:40 +0100


Unit Information Policy Team, Information Management Service, 2 Marsham Street, London, SW1P 4DF.

Tel: 0207-035-nnnn


Our Ref : CR7113

Your Ref

Date: 18 July 2007

Dear Mr. [name],

Environmental Information Regulations 2004 - Request for review of previous decision to refer original request to Defra.

Thank you for your e-mail dated 23 June that was received in the Home Office on 25 June in which you requested that we conduct an independent internal review of the length of time it has taken to respond to your request for information under the Environmental Information Regulations 2004. You were also not satisfied with the response you received and requested that we review our original decision to refer your case to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

When I acknowledged your request for an independent review on 26 June I informed you that I was aware that you had resubmitted your original request to the Home Office on 21 June 2007 and it would be considered as part of my review.

I have completed my review and can confirm that the Home Office holds the information you requested and is releasing it to you as an annex (Annex A) to this letter.

The EIR requires public bodies, which includes the Home Office, to make environmental information available to any person who requests it within 20 working days. If a request is both voluminous and complex the deadline may be extended to within 40 working days.

I can confirm that following a thorough search we have no record of receiving your request for information dated 20 May 2007. We only have a record of your request dated 21 June which was transferred to Defra on the same day. The Home Office should have responded to your request rather than transferring it to Defra and I apologise that this did not happen and for the inconvenience that this has caused. This error has been highlighted to the Departmental Correspondence Unit in order to ensure that it is not repeated.

If you are not satisfied with this response you have a further right of complaint to the Information Commissioner, who can be contacted at the following address:

Information Commissioner's Office Wycliffe House
Water Lane

E-mail: www.informationcommissioner.gov.uk

If you have any queries concerning this review please do not hesitate to contact me.

Yours sincerely,

[civil servant]
Information Policy Team

Annex A

Information being released:

1. Please disclose and publish the Environmental Impact Assessment regarding these Marylebone / Westminster Tracer Gas Trials.

The following are the relevant extracts from project documentation relating to the consideration given to which tracer gas to use and the environmental impact assessment of each. The conclusion was to use PFCs only as these were assessed to offer the lowest environmental impact:

Environmental concerns:

Both tracers [SF6 and PFCs] are inert, harmless gases and, especially in the quantities to be used, have no local environmental impacts. However, they are gases with large greenhouse warming potentials and this aspect of their use is analysed in Appendix 2. This shows that there are no significant concerns with the use of PFCs but possibly some for SF6.

Consequently, planning will consider both options shown in the table above until a definitive ruling is made on the use of SF6.

Appendix 2 - Greenhouse warming potential

The following calculations are based on "Guidelines for company reporting on greenhouse gas emissions", DEFRA 2005.

 SF6 3xPMCHNotes
CO2 equivalence23,90010,000Upper value in range for PMCHs
Life time in atmosphere3,200 yearsVery long 
Release/expt. (g)1000.5In 15 minutes
No of releases3030 
Total CO2 equivalent (kg)71,700150 
Typical off-set costs£717£1.50@ £10/T
Equivalent car travel, km398,000833@ 0.18 kg/km

c. Carbon off-setting for the project The trial no longer plans to use SF6 as a tracer gas. This reduces the greenhouse emissions from the trial and thus reduces the carbon off setting costs (to < £10).

2. What exactly are the particular "non-toxic, odourless gases" (plural) which will be released into the environment?

The non-toxic gases used in the trial belong to the family of chemicals known as cyclic perfluorocarbons. The actual gases released are : perfluoro methyl cyclohexane; meta perfluoro dimethyl cyclohexane; and para perfluoro dimethyl cyclohexane.

3. Are the Marylebone / Westminster Tracer Gas Trials intending to release Sulphur Hexafluoride into the atmosphere?

No. The gases being released during the trial are perfluorocarbons (PFCs).

4. Are any other "greenhouse gases" or "ozone layer destroying" gases such as ChloroFluoroCarbons (CFCs) like Freon to be used as Tracer Gases ? If so, what are the details?

No, the only gases being used in the Westminster tracer trial are perfluorocarbons.

5. Are any of these Tracer Gases radioactive ? If so, what are the details ?


6. Approximately what volume or mass of these Tracer Gases is to be released into the environment ?

The Westminster Tracer Trial will involve an approximate total release of 15 g of perfluorocarbons.

7. What is the anticipated extent of the area which will be exposed to the Tracer Gases ?

The movement of tracer gases during the trial will depend on the meteorological conditions. It is anticipated that the gases will be measurable up to a few hundred metres from the release point.

8. Are any Aerosols to be released into the environment as part of these trials ?


9. If any Aerosols are to be released, do these contain any natural biological organisms, or genetically modified organisms, or synthetic genetic sequence markers ?

Aerosols are not being released as part of the Westminster Tracer Trial. There will be no release of biological organisms or genetic material as part of the trial.

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