This blog will always exist to tell the story of the victims of industrial pollution, be it from a belching factory or the waste from industrial concerns that pollutes the environment and causes significant problems for health and wellbeing of potential receptors. There appear to be common themes throughout the world regards chemical factories and the damage that they cause to people’s quality of life, as well as pollution to the environment. It is interesting to explore the history of these sites as a warning to the future, where much of the information has been conveniently and in some instances deliberately buried.
The reputation of some “waste disposal” companies precedes them, and the former UK based Leigh Environmental were well known to be one of the most persistent environmental polluters in the country, and certainly in the West Midlands where they were unfortunately centred in the Walsall area.
In this first of five posts, this is the origins story.
Leigh appeared on the scene with a venture by Leonard Leigh Interests Limited– a canal carrier company established for many years, in the same manner as Alfred Matty, who dumped large amounts of industrial waste for their profit, (and to the negative impact on the environment of the past and for the future), haphazardly to land without any real regulation. As water gypsies, (substitute conifer clippings and tarmac dumped in country lanes for oily sludges to land on canal banks), they were of course the servants of industry, supported by the political class whose arguments when anyone raised an objection would be to claim that job losses would result if they stopped their vile morally bankrupt operations. Any former clay pit or quarry where they could tip was a convenient toilet for any old chemical crap or liquid sludge. They could do so with impunity and anything went.
When more stringent waste regulations came in due to The Deposit of Poisonous Wastes Act 1972 and the Control of Pollution Act 1974, these companies had to then refocus their appalling pollution record into some “legitimate” entity- and so it was with “Effluent Disposal Limited” an offshoot of Leigh Interests Limited which in time would eventually become another subsidiary “Leigh Environmental”.
Based in Brownhills, Effluent Disposal Limited , (EDL), applied for a waste disposal licence to infill a mine shaft complex at the former Walsall Wood Colliery. Production at the colliery is reported to have ceased in 1964, and so like many other vacant receptacles, these opportunist sheisters set about filling it in with the vile crap of industry, thanks to the highly dubious National Coal Board.
It was commented upon by The West Midlands County Council in a January 1980 meeting of The Waste Disposal and Pollution Control Committee that the workings in this area were “a geological freak” in that the mining area was confined to within a faulted geological block.
An illustration of this is shown below.
It is clear that there was collaboration with Matty’s in this venture, with W. Matty listed as a director of the subsidiary in the following article from 1967. It would indeed prove to be “a very valuable asset” to this company, though certainly not to a single soul living anywhere near it.
A further notice from 1972 shows that W. Matty had been with this company (a fellow barge dumping enterprise) for some 38 years!
One of the early big players in the company was David O’ Donnell. Others entering the limelight of local public wrath would be Malcolm Wood and “The Brigadier” Edward Wilkinson.
THE COAL MINE PISS HOLE IS NOT “SAFE”.
Before the licensing of waste disposal- particularly of hazardous chemicals, it is clear that canal carrying companies and others had either their own tips, or used others. Many of these operations in the industrially scarred West Midlands were old pit shafts and marl holes- just like Rattlechain lagoon amongst others. A Birmingham Post article from 1971 is interesting in that it predicted a “pollution time bomb” warning from a then public health inspector about such practices, and the race for companies to “snap up” these sites for convenient quick profitable disposal.
Mentioned in this article is Mr Malcolm Wood of Effluent Disposal. It states that this company had up to this point pumped 77.25 million gallons of liquids and sludge into such sites, with about 80% of it into the 12+ miles of void in the Walsall Wood colliery- of course, this would stretch right under the ground where people lived. The claims about the marl are wishful thinking, but typical of a time when anything went- and with this company they certainly did.
In 1972, The Deposit of Poisonous Wastes Act , which was supposed to protect people from the rampant dumping of dangerous chemicals such as cyanide that had been occurring across the country, and particularly in The West Midlands came into being. During the Bill reading debate, MP Thomas Urwin representing the Northern constituency of Houghton -le Spring made an astute and telling prediction.
“Friends representing constituencies in the North, and as applies also to many coal-mining areas throughout the country, we are highly vulnerable to this kind of indiscriminate disposal of all kinds of materials if only because there is a proliferation of pit shafts, many of them unmarked and long-since forgotten, but nevertheless in the ownership of the National Coal Board. Such large holes in the ground are a big attraction to people who want to absolve themselves of any financial responsibility by disposing of wastes through them.”
It would prove to be that the former Walsall Wood colliery coal mine venture by EDL would have a major negative impact on the local area. Urwin in the same debate also foretold the problems of such subterranean outlets for hazardous waste dumping, and raised the issue of safety.
“Because a precedent has been established at Walsall in Staffordshire, and as we now have this second and presumably only other known application for the use of a colliery for this purpose, it seems to me that this is the beginning of the establishment of what could well be a national policy….
…Indicative of the deep concern expressed by the man-in-the-street and by experts are the television discussions, question and answer sessions and articles and letters in the correspondence columns of the local Press. I ask the indulgence of the House to quote from an interview which was conducted on 1st March on the B.B.C. Northern Region News with Dr. Hooper, who reads pharmaceutical chemistry in Sunderland Polytechnic. He was asked whether any danger would arise from the dumping of cyanide in Silksworth colliery.
The expert replied:
I think there must be. Unless cast-iron guarantees can be given that this could not happen, I would not be happy, and I would question the whole philosophy that if you take toxic material and put it in a large hole in the ground this is the best way of dealing with it. We have the technology, we have the scientific knowledge and ability to render this material non-toxic.
He was asked whether we could do this, and he replied:
Yes, I think we can. I think the only question is that of cost and then it becomes a matter of Government and social priorities. Do we value cheap economic processes more than we value the exposure of people’s lives to very serious chemical hazards?
There may be no risk to people’s lives, there may be no chemical hazard, but I ask the right hon. Gentleman to look more closely into this matter. He has assured my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South that if necessary the resources of his Department can be made available to ensure complete satisfaction.
Has the Minister estimated the cost of rendering such toxic materials safe and non-toxic for all time? Has he estimated the cost of conducting extensive and intensive technological research into converting the materials for re-use? In conjunction with the Bill, what research is being done?”
And any cogent answer came there none.
Another article from The Birmingham Post 10th February 1972 confirms that Leigh had been dealing with human contaminated shit from the Minworth sewage works to be dumped down the hole at Walsall Wood, but had been served enforcement notices by the then Aldridge-Brownhills Urban Council. The smell is noted to have been one of the main reasons for this, after complaints from local residents. (some things never change) 🙄 Bizarrely the brief of Leigh describes the underground hole as “an ideal spot” 🙄
Malcolm Wood would be frequently quoted using a defence of enforcement by authority as a means to attempting to divert attention away from an equally disgusting waste carrying prospect- in this case using the cogent council concerns about his dire company activities, to explain that leaking lorries dumping the effluent instead on an open tip in Cannock had been caused by their decision. It is a perverse argument, but from what I have read and heard of the man, he was a complete #anchor.
The Deposit of Poisonous Wastes Act would prove to be a kneejerk utter failure in stopping industrial polluters like Effluent Disposal Limited from using these out of sight, out of mind holes for infilling. Just because they were convenient and hidden, it did not make it “safe”. In the same way, Albright and Wilson’s Rattlechain lagoon and the Gower Tip would also continue to be used for exactly the same purposes. Another site known as “the Monks Tip” SL76 along the Gower Branch canal was another Effluent Disposal Limited sludge waste site- about which very little appears to be known.
1976 was the major year when site licences were being drawn up to be issued by the useless West Midlands County Council under the new licensing scheme legislation of The Control of Pollution Act 1974. In this year, MP for Perry Barr Jeff Rooker reported in Parliament about the EDL site during a debate on waste disposal in The West Midlands and what had took place up to this point in time:
“In a recent 12-month period 10 million gallons of waste was poured down the mine shaft. It is a warren of toxic waste, because the shaft goes 500 feet underground and then 3,000 feet along the old mine workings.
The action of dumping waste has been defended by the company disposing of the waste—Effluent Disposal Limited. It intends to continue dumping millions of gallons of waste down the mine shaft for the next 20 years—in fact, till the end of the century. It claims that the mine shaft is a safe geological bottle, because the toxic poisonous waste cannot escape.
In fact, this is a geological time bomb which will probably affect our children and future generations. No one really knows what is happening down there. It is not possible to inspect the underground area. Even worse, six weeks ago a blockage occurred. The shaft and the workings can supposedly be used for 20 years. Because of the blockage, nothing is being dumped down there. The company is attempting to get planning permission to bore a hole to release the blockage by means of air pressure. The local residents are very opposed to this. Most of them did not appreciate what was happening. It was only the blockage that brought the operations at the mine shaft to the attention of the public.”
This instantly rings many alarm bells for me as a latter day environmental campaigner with my own story and dumping site at Rattlechain Lagoon. There are very familiar themes.
- A large company who appear to have been doing something for years, with dubious safety boasts that were not properly independently investigated.
- A site licence sought and issued by a bunch of cretins- not least the county waste disposal officer Ken Harvey.
- Local residents being in the dark about what was happening and being dumped, and of course the inevitable statutory nuisance issues of potential explosions, fires and smells, as well as the insidious effects on health of living next to “a time bomb” site.
The blockage referred to in his speech reportedly occurred due to the brick shaft wall and the Etruria marl behind it collapsing to form a bung. This “seal” would prove not to be the solution that they were looking for in dumping this highly toxic waste, which included chromium, arsenic and cyanide.
Not only did the Leigh Interests and EDL’s subterranean method of disposal come in for criticism from local residents who did not want this under their homes, and politicians who supported them, industry itself appeared to be critical of the approach to not deal with hazardous waste responsibly as an authority rather than leaving it to private companies, who could literally make a killing by dumping it underground.
This is not to say that the people of Walsall who did not want this menace were Nimby’s, rather the managing directors and the high echelons within Leigh Interests and associated companies themselves were the Nimby’s for not wanting to fill such holes with the stuff in places such as Landywood, Telford and Bakewell in the Derbyshire Dales where THEY lived.
The West Midlands County Association of Trades Council’s passed a resolution which read
To get around their blockage, EDL would look for an alternative surface “lagoon” site on the workings of the former Aldridge Colliery to continue the dumping, which forms the next part of the Leigh Environment-HELL story.