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What's in the dust from the Eastway landfill?

Emailing the Health and Safety Executive about contamination

Mr Boland,

The best part of two weeks has now elapsed since your last response regarding my request for information about the analysis of contaminated dust from the Eastway. You have still not clarified what testing, if any, is being undertaken. You first responded to my latest enquiries after your holiday well over a month ago, to say you were not able to tell me what was being done and that you wanted to be sure of your information before answering my query. It seems we are no further forward.

I am simply astonished. I can understand that there might be some need to be sure when interpreting the results of an analysis, but not to be able to say whether or not an analysis is occurring is simply incredible. To have to wait for over a month for this very basic information is verging on the criminal.

I say criminal because it is known that this is a 'heavily contaminated' site. These are the words of the ODA and LDA. It contains industrial contaminants as well some radioactive material. There are two documented deposits of drums of thorium, the location of one of which is unknown as the map of the location (as opposed to the record of the deposit) from the LVRPA has gone astray. In addition, DEFRA warns, in its Industry Profiles document, that a landfill of this age in an area where radioactive materials were known to have been in use in local industries is likely to have received deposits in domestic waste, which could therefore be anywhere on this site. Care would have to be taken with the site as a whole when looking for such materials. The industrial contaminants were described in the planning application for the remediation of the Eastway.

Indeed one of the justifications for demolishing the existing facilities and housing under the CPO was the alleged need to 'clean up' the site! Not that anyone gave a damn about that while we were there.

Not only is no information forthcoming on the issue of analysing the dust but no information is provided about the means being used to suppress the dust which is being produced. As I have pointed out in previous emails residents at Clays Lane had considerable experience of dust from the Stratford City and know how ineffective ordinary bowsers are. It is difficult to see what sprays are being used on the site because it is boarded off. However, I am not aware of any sprays being used apart from bowsers.

I am attaching the whole string of recent emails, including comments from Messers Whitehouse of Newham Environmental Health and Waterman of the ODA. I have, of course, been trying to communicate with the HSE, the ODA and NEH for over a year on these issues.

Mr Whitehouse suggests there are no indications of health risks. I don't know how he can say this as there is apparently no information on the content of the dust and the health impacts as opposed to nuisance are not his responsibility anyway. But, in addition, I have pointed out that Mr Whitehouse and his department were unaware of any health problems at Clays Lane Travellers' site when the Park Village low rise housing was being demolished. Indeed they refused to even believe the housing was being demolished and failed to inspect for almost two weeks after being lied to by the contractors who said no demolition was occurring. The same contractors in charge of the Eastway were also responsible for the Park Village site. No sprays were required by either Newham Environmental Health or the ODA (as developers and development control) when that work began. NEH were also remarkably ineffective when dealing with the problems we faced with Stratford City where I ended up being my own environmental health inspector. Mr Whitehouse told me then that the scientific opinion was dust only carries for 20 metres, although he now denies ever saying this.

Mr Waterman of the ODA is apparently still unaware the Travellers suffered health problems arising from the demolition of the Park Village low rise or the later problems from the demolition of Clays Lane. I have already sent you and him my response to his email.

We are always told that proper measurements are taken and exhaustive surveys and assessments are organised whenever these projects get under way. It is difficult to pay much attention to these reassurances after living through this kind of experience.

I have attempted to put what is going on now at the Eastway into the context of the previous experience at the Dome where serious health problems are reported to have followed the digging up of that site, which also had industrial contaminants in it. The kind of problems, such as increased rates of asthma among schoolchildren and birth defects, which are reported to have occurred then and which may now be occurring in local residents will not be immediately apparent. Dust will certainly be carried over to Leyton, Leytonstone and Stratford in the east and in all likelihood to other localities in Hackney and Tower Hamlets to the west. I would have expected a responsible health and safety agency to ensure that testing of the content of the dust would start from day one. To find the best part of a year later (the work at Eastway started well before Clays Lane residents moved out in July 2007) that the HSE cannot even say whether testing is occurring is simply amazing.

Of course, I cannot say the people in Leyton, Stratford and Leytonstone and elsewhere are suffering problems from contaminated dust. Regrettably the only way we will discover this, under the present regime, is in a few years time when problems either do or do not show up. What is disturbing about this situation is the lack of analysis and, on the basis of our earlier experience, the lack of sprays other than bowsers to reduce the spread of this dust.

The LDA and ODA chose to dig up this site which was, to all intents and purposes, harmless in its previous life and by digging it up have created a danger through the distribution of dust. Thorium is dangerous as dust whereas it is not dangerous when left in the ground. There is no suggestion industrial contaminants affected cyclists and walkers.

I have also copied these emails to the local MP and the Mayor of Newham and will do so again. So far they seem remarkably sanguine about this state of affairs! I could comment further on that.

Who knows what is going on with Waltham Forest and other authorities. Perhaps they are unaware of the existence of the site!

Yours, Julian Cheyne

Eastway contamination.doc91 KB

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