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Contaminated Dust at the Eastway, the HSE responds and the ODA upgrades its monitoring

Further to my earlier article about contamination at the former Eastway cycle track the HSE responded after nine weeks (see email below). I remain astonished that it took nine weeks for the HSE to be able to summarise the monitoring being undertaken at the Eastway site. I would have thought the information would be readily to hand but apparently not.

I am not a technical person so I cannot comment on the statement that the new monitoring regime is ‘exemplary’ but I take Mr Boland’s word for it. I am pleased that the ODA has upgraded its monitoring although Mr Boland has continued to say elsewhere that dust control is not the HSE's concern. So while the monitoring has been improved no further measures seem to have been taken to control the dust. It has to be repeated that it is the ODA which describes this site as ‘heavily contaminated’ with industrial pollutants as well as radioactive thorium. Tessa Jowell commented recently on the unexpectedly high costs incurred in cleaning up industrial pollution on the Olympic Park so plainly these are real concerns and not the figments of excitable residents’ imaginations.

Having lived next to a site like Stratford City where Skanska were dumping all the subsoil from the Channel Tunnel I can attest to the impact of summer sun, the constant moving around of soil and the grinding effects of machinery in the creation of dust, both visible and invisible, which resulted in a very visible dust storm over an August Bank Holiday weekend when no work was going on. Conventional dust controls in the form of bowsers, water tankers pulled behind a tractor which produce a low spray only useful for dust on roadways, were completely useless when dealing with piles of material or difficult to access workings. Skanska did deploy extra sprays and modified larger bowsers to produce high level sprays in an attempt to meet residents’ concerns.

The issue of responsibility for the oversight of dust control at the Eastway remains unclear. The ODA, as developer, has a clear responsibility but the HSE, responsible for health issues, considers that dust is nuisance and therefore the responsibility of Newham Environmental Health. NEH told me health issues are a matter for the HSE and that this is a health matter. However, discussions have tended not to produce solid results and I have heard previous statements contradicted or denied on several occasions.

At Park Village, where it was demolishing the estate, the ODA showed a complete failure to control dust from those works while NEH failed to even comprehend that demolition was taking place! The whole point about the Eastway is that this site was to all intents and purposes harmless if left alone, even in the case of the thorium, until it was dug up and turned into dust, which is what is now happening. Attempts were also made by residents to contact the medical officer responsible for public health, who would later have to clear up any mess, but she made no response to emails sent to her.

The ODA have arranged a meeting to discuss these concerns so we will see what happens next.

Another heavily contaminated site was the Greenwich Dome. One researcher has referred to statistics which show that asthma rates in schoolchildren in Greenwich went from 11.9% to 50% after the work began on the Dome while birth defects also increased (see attachment). On 09/08/2007 the Mirror published a story about cancers among workers at the Dome (see attachment). Of course, it was pointed out that these workers had already worked on other contaminated sites so it couldn’t be proved these cancers resulted from the work on the Dome site. However, the HSE has been strongly criticised for its underestimation of cancers in the work place so it is little comfort to know that these cancers may have resulted from working on other contaminated sites. Clays Lane residents and others who talked to workers on the Eastway site found they had little or no knowledge of the dangers of the site and had little in the way of protective clothing, even when they were working in areas which may have been in the pathway of thorium which may have moved with ground water.

It has also been curious to see how the media and politicians have responded to this issue. When it was reported that radioactive material had been found on the Eastway there was something resembling a stampede by journalists wanting to interview and film residents about the find. Local papers, the nationals, even a TV crew from China turned up so powerful is the notion of anything radioactive. Inside Housing, a magazine devoted to, you guessed it, housing stuck it on their front page. They hadn’t bothered to report the relocation of the residents at Clays Lane, a, you guessed it, housing story! I pointed this out to the reporter and he promised to get back on that. But, you guessed it…..

However, once the radioactive excitement died down the story died with it. Attempts to point out to the Press that contaminated dust is still being produced and perhaps they might like to take a look have met with a resounding silence. Indeed one local newspaper, the East London Advertiser, told us the Eastway was outside its area and then promptly printed a story about the cyclists at, you guessed it…..

As for local politicians like Lyn Brown, MP for West Ham, local councillors, the Mayor of Newham and John Biggs, the local GLA member, nothing substantial resulted from contacting them. Mr Biggs did hold a meeting at Clays Lane when the radioactive find was announced but then seemed to think that was that while Ms Brown operates a forwarding postal service, shuffling letters between the ODA and residents like me. The Mayor of Newham has never even acknowledged emails copied to him on the subject and a local ward councillor who lived on the estate was never heard to say anything.

That’s dust for you!

Email from the HSE

Subject: RE: Complaints regarding the Eastway
Date: Tue, 8 Apr 2008 14:09:28 +0100
Mr Cheyne-

In my message dated 18th March (below) I gave you a summary of the types of monitoring which are taking place at the Olympic site. I am now in a position to give you more detail.

The overall sampling and monitoring scheme was based on the findings of the Environmental impact assessment which was submitted as part of the planning application. The contractors are using a combination of sampling close to where the work is taking place (personal sampling on individual workers) and remote sampling at zone or site boundaries.

In relation to dust sampling, measurements are being made for total inhalable dust, and then the samples are analysed to check for levels of the following metals: Aluminium; Arsenic; Barium; Cadmium; Calcium; Chromium; Cobalt; copper; iron; lead; Magnesium; Mercury; Molybdenum; Nickel; Selenium; Vanadium and zinc. Samples taken in the worst case scenario (ie those from personal samplers on workers working close to soil disturbance) are well below the Workplace Exposure Limits (WELS) set out in the HSE publication EH40 in all cases.

In addition to this, monitoring is also taking place for the possible presence of Volatile Organic Solvents. Again these samples are being taken at the 'worst possible' positions- for example at the north of the site samples are taken down wind of the screener and down wind of the sand stockpiles. Measurements taken as a total (without differentiation for of individual compounds) do not show a significant VOC source. Subsequent analysis of pumped tube samples has shown that individual VOC concentrations are well below corresponding WEL's at both sampling stations.

At the site boundaries, in response to a pre-commencement condition of the planning permissions, a Dust Monitoring Scheme was prepared by Atkins on behalf of the ODA. The scheme required the dust soiling rate to be determined using felon sticky pads at 30 locations around the Olympic park site, and further sampling at 6 locations using 5 Osiris monitors and 1 beta attenuation mass monitor. Monthly reports are submitted to the Local Authority Echo's for review.

All of these controls are in addition to the precautions which the contractors have put in place to control the risk from the possible presence of radioactive materials and asbestos, which I have described to you in previous correspondence.

The approach which has been adopted to date by the ODA and it's contractors has been to develop the various sampling and monitoring regimes based on the original environmental surveys, and then keep these under review based on the results of ongoing on-site monitoring. As all of the monitoring results to date for workers who are most immediately at risk have indicated that exposure levels are well below workplace exposure limits, detailed analysis of the dust at site boundaries has not been deemed necessary.

However, as a result of the enquiries which we have made in response to your complaints, the ODA has agreed that in order to put the matter beyond any doubt for the future, boundary and perimeter monitoring will from now on include detailed analysis of the contents of the dust. I would stress that based on the risk assessments which we have studied, the precautions in place and the monitoring and sampling results we have seen, this represents an exemplary standard for the type of work which is taking place.

I understand that you have been contacted by the ODA directly with a view to them explaining to you in more detail the monitoring regime which they have put in place.

My team will continue to keep this matter under review to ensure that the monitoring regimes are appropriate to the risk to both those at work on site and to the public.

Dome cancers.doc34.5 KB
greaterlondonhealthreport(incdome).pdf214.17 KB

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