UK’s Environment Agency faces legal fight over landfill fumes

Threat to health of five-year-old triggers proceedings over fumes from Walleys Quarry landfill near Newcastle-under-Lyme

A five-year-old boy from Staffordshire has begun legal action against the Environment Agency over fumes from a landfill site that a medical expert has said is shortening his life expectancy.

Campaigners said a letter to begin legal proceedings had been sent on behalf of Mathew Richards, who was born prematurely and has significant respiratory health problems that have been worsened by fumes from a landfill site near his home in Silverdale, near Newcastle-under-Lyme.

Smelly fumes from Walleys Quarry landfill have plagued residents for months, locals have reported nose bleeds, itchy eyes and sore throats, and asthma sufferers say they have had to have their medication increased.

A report from Dr Ian Sinha, a paediatric respiratory consultant at Alder Hey children’s hospital, concluded that exposure to hydrogen sulphide fumes from the site “will have a lifelong detrimental effect on Mathew’s future respiratory health” and will reduce his life expectancy.

He said the fumes from the landfill were creating “a public health emergency with potentially catastrophic consequences”, particularly for children, elderly people and vulnerable adults, and called for emergency measures to curtail the fumes.

Lauren Currie, Mathew’s aunt, said the situation was “heartbreaking” for the family. “It’s terrifying – it’s all we think about. Luckily for us, our children have healthy lungs, but for how long if this carries on?” she said. “We want to be taken more seriously. The landfill needs to be closed down. It should never have been there in the first place – it’s too close to residents.”

The Environment Agency, which is monitoring air quality in the area, said it had instructed Walleys Quarry to manage the odour and landfill gas coming from the site and was challenging the site operator “every step of the way”.

Walleys Quarry
The Environment Agency says it is trying to ‘robustly regulate’ Walleys Quarry. Photograph: Christopher Thomond/The Guardian

Sinha said Public Health England data showed that residents in the Silverdale ward had higher than average rates of death from respiratory disease, diagnoses of lung cancer and hospitalisation from acute childhood illness, disproportionately higher than expected for the area’s socioeconomic profile.

His report said exposure to hydrogen sulphide fumes caused inflammation and vascular damage, and in children could prevent airways from developing properly.

A statement on behalf of the Stop the Stink Cap It Off campaign said the Environment Agency had been asked to confirm that in light of Sinha’s report, the quarry would be closed and urgent measures taken to make the area safe. “If they do not take this action, the case will proceed to the high court as soon as possible,” the statement said.

Rebekah Carrier, the solicitor representing Mathew, said: “The EA has the power to intervene, and also has obligations to prevent breaches of Mathew’s human rights. We’re saying this is an interference with his right to life, because we have evidence his life is being shortened.”

She said Mathew’s mother, Rebecca, had long suspected that the fumes were making her son ill. “Somebody has to put their head above the parapet and say, ‘This isn’t right for my child and it isn’t right for anybody else’s child either, something has to be done.’ She’s doing what any parent would do, but she’s also quite brave, because this is not a small thing to embark on.”

Clare Dinnis of the Environment Agency said: “We’re doing everything within our powers … to robustly regulate the operations of Walleys Quarry Limited.

“We’ve instructed Walleys Quarry Ltd to invest in a number of complex and costly engineering solutions in a very short period of time. We are already seeing some small improvements from this work. We will not stop until the operator effectively manages the odour from its operations.”


Jessica Murray Midlands correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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