Albright’s toxic archives #17 Oldbury under fire #1

The nature of the unnatural chemical materials stored at the site in Trinity Street Oldbury make it a major hazard to avoid. Unfortunately for those living around this spralling site, along with the vile smells and putrid pea supor substance mists, the main risks to human health remained the threat of fire, as well as explosions.

Numerous articles on fires that occurred, putting local people at personal risk, as well as the hapless bribed workforce of Albright and Wilson are not hard to find. The first of these is revealed in The Birmingham Daily Gazette of 11th August 1952 and concerns the main chemical which of course we know all about- white phosphorus.

Off site risks of course would be toxic gases being released  as well as damage from phosphoric acid forming in contact with mucous membranes.

Less than a year later, another fire on the site was also recorded in the same paper on 3rd March 1953. This fire involved damage to a single storey building and the mention of “flares” is interesting (not the baggy trousers). These were no doubt part of the Government work undertaken for the Navy by this company- just a covered up risk to which many people locally were unaware.

Fast forward to 1959 and the article in The Birmingham Daily Post of 24th March reveals that breathing apparatus was used by firemen to put out a sawdust fire.

On 7th September of the same year, and again in The Birmingham Daily Post, a more serious “chemical fumes peril” fire is recorded. This involved firemen putting their lives at risk from three brigades to fight a phosphorus pentasulphide fire at the works.

The article describes how an “artificial fog” reached Oldbury Town centre- in reality a dangerous breakdown product acid mix from this chemical weapons precursor that would have affected anyone exposed to it.

The pentasulphide reaction with water produces the toxic gas Hydrogen sulphide as well as phosphoric acid.

P4S10 + 16 H2O → 4 H3PO4 + 10 H2S

It is not clear how firemen therefore fought this fire, but water would definitely NOT have been a safe option.

From these four examples, I’m sure there are many more from this period of time which were covered up and not reported, one can see how people living in Oldbury were being exposed to unnecessary risk. They were also being left out of pocket in rates by having to pay for a fire service to fight these chemical fires, and all to make  one company which claimed to be part of the community a shed load of dough.

What they didn’t need of course, they dumped in places like Rattlechain lagoon and the Gower Tip- which also produced fires and put local people at risk.

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