‘A Community in Crisis’ - Walleys Quarry, living next to a landfill
Associate solicitor Tina Patel and paralegal Jessica Harrison discuss Walleys Quarry, a landfill located in Jessica’s hometown of Newcastle-under-Lyme and the devastating impact living next to a landfill can have for residents.
Posted on 18 November 2021
Located within the former mining village of Silverdale in Newcastle-under-Lyme, Walleys Quarry has been accepting waste since 2007. The site is currently run by Walleys Quarry Ltd, formally known as Red Industries.
The landfill, like many around the country, releases a foul-smelling gas identified as hydrogen sulphide. The gas is well known within the local communities of Newcastle-under-Lyme and Stoke-on-Trent for relentlessly reducing the quality of life of those living close to the quarry. The level of gas that is omitted from the landfill has been found to regularly exceed the World Health Organisation’s guidelines for exposure to the gas. Dr Ian Sinha of Alder Hey Children’s Hospital has described the pollution faced by the community as a “public health emergency”.
Social and health impact of living near a landfill
Local residents have reported a wide range of physical and mental health issues linked to the hydrogen sulphide in the atmosphere. Continuous headaches, streaming eyes, nausea, dizziness and skin itchiness are all common symptoms suffered by residents. Those in the community who are young, elderly or have pre-existing health conditions have been identified to be particularly vulnerable to the gas, with many reporting a worsening of their health conditions.
Data from Public Health England shows that within Silverdale there are higher rates of respiratory illness, higher than expected rates of death from respiratory illness, diagnosis of lung cancer and hospitalisation with COPD. The World Health Organisation has stated that “information about longer term exposures to hydrogen sulphide is scanty", that "the need for epidemiological studies on possible effects of long-term, low-level hydrogen sulphide exposure is obvious". The lack of research and uncertainty surrounding the long-term impact, leaves residents to fear that they will suffer from further serious health complications if their exposure to the gas continues.
As hydrogen sulphide has a distinctive pungent rotten egg odour, this leaves residents unable to enjoy their homes and gardens. Many cannot open their windows to allow ‘fresh’ air into their home and cannot enjoy their gardens without smelling the horrific pollutant. This is particularly devastating when residents have been isolated within their homes during lockdowns or are unable to enjoy the hot weather. Local charities have been donating air purifiers to alleviate the effects of the gas within residents’ homes, but this is no substitution for the clean air that they should be entitled too.
Understandably, those effected have been made to feel like they are trapped within their own homes. The pollution has also caused a deterioration in mental health. In a local survey of 1,400 people, 64% of respondents reported a significant or severe impact on their mental health, which raised to 73% amongst those living in the closet proximity to the site.
Community and environmental impact of the landfill
Living near to the landfill is having a devastating effect on the local community. In order to escape the physical and mental impact the landfill is having, many residents and families who have lived within Silverdale for their whole lives are moving out of the area. Those who cannot afford the extra cost moving, cannot sell their home or live in council provided housing have little option but to deal with the anguish caused by the pollution.
The effects of the site are felt not just by residents of Silverdale, reports of hydrogen sulphide are regularly logged by residents of neighbouring villages and towns often many miles away from the quarry. Local hospital, Royal Stoke, is approximately 2.5 miles away from the site and is often severely affected by the gas. The Newcastle-under-Lyme Business Improvement District (BID), which represents traders in the area, has made several complaints on their behalf.
Studies have shown that animals are also affected by the gas, which is supported by residents’ experiences with their own pets. It is not clear what added impact the gas will have on the local environment and it has not been made clear to residents if ongoing monitoring is being undertaken of the surrounding water and soil in addition to the air quality.
Corporate accountability for landfill sites
The issue shines a light on the lack of accountability that private businesses face and raises questions concerning how their operations are allowed to continue while significantly affecting a community’s quality of life. The issue has seen the Prime Minister, government ministers and members of parliament raise their concerns, but no effective action has yet resolved the issue.
The Environment Agency (EA) are responsible for protecting the public against pollutants such as hydrogen sulphide. The EA have been monitoring the site - but many residents feel that the agency has failed to take any considerable or meaningful action by continuing to allow Walleys Quarry Ltd to operate the site.
It has been reported that the company has been found to be in breach of their permit at Walleys Quarry 17 times since the start of 2021. While the EA have stated that it has not ruled out criminal prosecution of Walleys Quarry Ltd, it continues to allow significant amounts new waste to be added to the landfill, stating that they do not have grounds to suspend the permit.
Many residents within Newcastle-under-Lyme and Stoke-on-Trent have come together to try to ensure that accountability and action is taken. ‘Stop the Stink’ is a local campaign group that raises awareness around the dangerous pollution coming from the landfill. The group highlights the power of community organisation, by undertaking frequent peaceful protests and completing independent research, monitoring and fact checking. They have been a significant force in holding the EA and Walleys Quarry Ltd to account, ensuring that their cause is not forgotten.
Recent High Court Ruling on Walleys Quarry
A recent ruling by the High Court has sought to help the community. A case was brought by local resident, Rebecca Currie who instructed firm Hopkin Murray Beskine to represent her 5-year-old son Matthew, over the impact the gas was having on his health. It was accepted that Matthew’s life expectancy would be dramatically reduced if the level of hydrogen sulphate pollutants in the air did not decrease significantly.
Mr Justice Forman of the High Court ruled that the hydrogen sulphide levels affecting the village of Silverdale must be cut to less than one-eighth of current levels by January 2022 and must ensure that the reduction of off-site odours meets the WHO half hour average recommended level, as early as possible.
This brings some hope to the residents effected, but there is significant doubt that the hydrogen sulphide levels will be reduced in line with the ruling. Recent monitoring for the weeks commencing the 6th, 13thand 20th September have shown that the recommended half hour average level was exceeded for substantial lengths of time, leaving the community to continue suffer from the physical and mental injury at their continued exposure of the gas.
As the community continues to battle to be free of the harmful pollution, the recent ruling could now make it possible for them to bring their own legal claims regarding the harm they have suffered and any losses they have incurred.
Leigh Day is investigating a potential legal claim and residents are advised to get in touch should they want to investigate this further.