Across the Garden of England hundreds of landfill sites containing dangerous, hazardous and toxic waste, are according to a remediation consultant of 35 years, “time bombs” waiting to explode “it’s a matter of when, NOT if a serious incident happens“.
It is your local council’s legal responsibility to monitor and manage historic landfills in their area where the operator was either the local authority or is unknown.
At the beginning of March 2021 we wrote about the Stodmarsh water quality issue which has held up developments in East Kent.
The DEFRA historic Landfill site map shows their are six historic landfill sites as one leaves Canterbury and follows the Stour out to the Stodmarsh reserve. It begs the question is it just Nitrogen and Phosphorous which are causing issues at Stodmarsh, or are other chemicals causing issues as well?
Given Canterbury City Council have done little to none monitoring of these sites nearby, begs the question why they have not fullfilled their legal responsibilities in monitoring these sites.
They are not alone, all Kent Councils have known and unknown sites in their districts and do not even appear on the map. But those that are known have not been monitored as regularly as they should be, if at all.
There are many landfill sites across the Garden of England where information of what went into the many landfill sites is simply not known by either the local authority, or the Environment Agency.
We spoke to several remediation specialists who said Councils are setting themselves up for a large sequence of nasty surprises if the toxic substances were to escape. Given many Councils in Kent and beyond have seen funding shortfalls and have suffered due to loss of income due to the pandemic means many of these landfill sites are not being monitored regularly as they must be.
An Environment Agency spokesperson said its records of former landfill locations in the Garden of England are “not precise exact or detailed” as these were compiled as part of an Environment Agency project in the 1990s. Sites are added to the data when they close but cleaned-up sites are not removed as councils are legally responsible for them, according to the agency.
It must not be forgetten that over time the definition of dangerous, hazardous and toxic waste has changed, meaning some sites categorised as not containing toxic waste will now contain substances considered to be hazardous.
In the Folkestone & Hythe area, four sites Nickolls Quarry, Fisherman Beach, Princes Parade and Biggins Wood, either have housing or will have housing on them. Then there are landfill sites which are located near water bodies. Princes Parade, Nickolls Quarry, Forty Acre Farm on the Romney Rd near Lydd, New Romney Tip located next to Marlie Farm and opposite the Littlestone Golf Club, the one near Orgarswick Farm to name the known ones.
The risks associated with old sites are exacerbated by their position as some of the above sites are located in flood 3A zones and others exposed to potential tidal flooding.
Unlike modern landfills, older ones tend not to have been lined before the waste was deposited, meaning the chemicals within can leach out, potentially contaminating rivers, groundwater, soils, plants and harming wildlife. Even modern lined landfills with leachate management systems will eventually leak, according to some studies.
Old dumps do contain substances now banned or restricted such as asbestos, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), PFOA and PFOS, all of which are extremely toxic to human health and the environment.
A recent Environment Agency assessment revealed that every English river failed to meet legal health standards as a result of what it called the “ubiquitous” presence of chemicals such as PFOS, PFOA and brominated flame retardants. Old unlined landfills are not the only source of these substances but it is more likely than not they make a significant contribution.
It is the responsibility of local councils to identify, monitor and clean up these landfill sites. And bleating they do not have the funds doesn’t wash given their recent financial speculation on property and substantial pay rises for the most senior management.
Developer chooses to buy, remediate and develop old gasworks or old railway shunting yards where the contamination is relatively easy to deal with, as they have a better idea what they will encounter, such as the Harbour Arm, Folkestone and East Kent Goods yard on Southern Way, Folkestone.
This leaves Councils to deal with sites such as Biggins Wood and Princes Parade, both of which are being developed by Folkestone & Hythe District Council, as developers would not take the expensive risk of cleaning them up, as they like to have a better idea of what they will encounter, it’s cheaper.
A Local Government Association spokesperson for the environment made it clear councils have a “legal responsibility to regularly monitor [every 3 to 5 years] and manage the historic landfill sites set out on the Environment Agency map in their area, where the previous operator was either the local authority or is unknown.
One remediation consultant with 35 years experiences said “As the EA and Councils have cut back due to austerity, environmental surveillance and investigations have been seriously scaled back significantly. In some districts of Kent there has been no monitoring of these sites for 20 years. Both the local authorities in Kent and the EA are setting themselves up for a large sequence of nasty surprises in the Garden of England. It’s a definite timebomb and it will explode.”
These landfill sites risks, are risks which cannot be sensibly ignored having due regard to the gravity and feared harm they will cause to the Garden of England. It is time for all Kent Councils to regularly monitor these sites as they must.
The Shepway Vox Team
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