A HUGE fuel spill at RAF Odiham risks contaminating an underground aquifer supplying fresh water to 1,500 local homes, the Herald has learned.
The spillage of up to 31,000 litres of diesel into the environment occurred in September 2021 after a “piece of plant equipment” failed in the RAF base’s back-up generator building.
However, the spill was unveiled only last week after the Ministry of Defence awarded a £500,000-plus private sector contract to clean it up.
Even Odiham Parish Council said it had “no knowledge of this incident” before being approached by the Herald on Monday.
The nine-month contract, worth £532,000, was awarded to environmental clean-up specialists Adler and Allan on March 30 and was expected to get under way on April 1.
Notice of the tender online revealed RAF Odiham, home of the British Chinook force, had to deal with a ‘tier 2 spillage’ – with as much as 80 per cent of the leak believed to be located under its back-up generator building, and boreholes revealing it has likely extended into service family accommodation.
However, even more concerning is the fact RAF Odiham also sits on a grade 1 aquifer that provides water to approximately 1,500 homes in the local area.
The MoD has stipulated this “must be protected from contamination” and has insisted it “takes its environmental responsibilities extremely seriously” after news of the spillage was made public – more than six months after the event.
It has emerged an alarm alerted service personnel to the leak last September, with an MoD spokesman adding the RAF station “immediately enacted their response plan and ensured relevant safety and containment measures were taken”.
Adler and Allan will now spend the next nine months investigating and cleaning up the spill, the full extent of which is still unknown, the MoD has admitted.
The Environment Agency has been working closely with the MoD ever since the spill was detected, and has already discovered that the diesel spillage has likely extended into homes occupied by service families on the base.
However, it is not yet known for certain whether the grade 1 aquifer located around 40 to 50 metres below RAF Odiham could be affected – potentially contaminating the freshwater supply for some 1,500 homes in the Odiham area.
Aquifers are naturally occurring bodies of water located between layers of subterranean rock, and are an important resource for local communities.
The MoD spokesman continued: “No-one has highlighted that the aquifer is affected, but it continues to be monitored by the contractor and water sampling is being carried out weekly and monthly as agreed with by the contractor and Environment Agency.
“Where incidents of this nature occur, we take swift action to minimise any harm to the environment working closely with the Environmental Regulator.
“RAF Odiham is working with the Environment Agency and Defence contractors to monitor the site closely. Further remedial work will be undertaken as required.
“As a result of the incident, additional safety control measures have already been introduced on plant equipment by the Defence Infrastructure Organisation.”
The MoD spokesman added “there was no impact to operations” at the RAF base as a result of the spill.
An Environment Agency spokesperson said: “We were informed by the MoD about the fuel spillage when it occurred in September 2021.
“We have been in regular contact with the site to ensure the affected area undergoes clean up and remediation to reduce any risk to the environment and the aquifer.
“We also alerted the local public water supply company to ensure they could take any necessary action to prevent contamination of local water supply.
“The investigation and remediation is ongoing.”
As home of the UK’s Chinook force, RAF Odiham operates three CH-47 Chinook squadrons (7 Sqn, 18 Sqn, and 27 Sqn).