Hundreds of ageing landfill dumps on the coast of England containing plastics, chemicals and other waste are a ticking timebomb threatening to leach pollution on to beaches and into the sea, new research shows.
The waste sites date back 100 years in some cases, and little is known about what has been dumped in them. Climate breakdown with associated rising sea levels and flooding are increasing the risk of a cocktail of pollutants entering the sea.
More than three-quarters of the landfill dumps identified in a survey by the local government association are adjacent to designated environmentally protected areas.
The survey, by the Local Government Association coastal special interest group (LGA Coastal SIG), in collaboration with coastal group network, shows that 26 coastal councils have sites already spilling large amounts of waste on to cliffs and beaches.
The councils that responded to the survey identified 195 coastal landfill sites as being at risk of tidal flooding and/or erosion. But it is thought there are approximately 1,200 to 1,400 historical coastal waste dumps in the UK currently at risk of erosion and flooding, according to the LGA Coastal SIG.
Mark Stratton, officer lead for coastal landfill at the group, said: “There are hundreds of coastal landfill sites at risk of tidal flooding and erosion. During visits to sites, I have been overwhelmed by the scale of the problem, especially the threat of waste eroding or leaching out on to the often-designated natural coastal environment.
“The landfill sites have been inherited by councils, and stretch from the north to the south of England.”
The councils are asking for government help to tackle the threat, shore up the dumps to stop the leaching of pollution from sites that are already eroding or being flooded, and carry out an investigation into what the sites contain.
David Renard, Local Government Association environment spokesperson, said: “Our coastlines need urgent support. This problem will not go away, and funding is needed to prevent hundreds of disasters on our shores. Councils want to protect their local environments but need urgent support from the government to save our coastlines from this ticking timebomb.”
A spokesperson from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: “We are committed to working closely with local authorities, who have the responsibility of ensuring historic landfill sites are managed in a consistent and environmentally friendly way. Findings from the LGA survey will help inform our planned national assessment on the impacts of coastal erosion and flooding at historic coastal landfill sites, which will help improve management of these sites in the future.”