“Small amounts” of sincerity

MEETING OF 24/9/09

A meeting was held on 24/9/09 to which I was given only 2 days notice in order to “discuss the Harlan report”   0071-0783, the first white phosphorus test carried out on a dead bird from the lake. No prior copy of the report was sent to me, so at the meeting there was little time to question what it actually contained. Despite asking if minutes could be taken by Rhodia, they were not. At a previous meeting in June of the same year, which several local residents attended, no minutes were ever circulated either, despite an employee of Rhodia  who was sat next to me actually taking them.

A number of important issues were raised at that meeting, which by the design of Rhodia were not committed to written record. All previous meetings concerning this issue held at Rhodia did generate minutes- as has been demonstrated. In conclusion there is little doubt that Rhodia do not wish difficult questions asked, and their limited answers given to be recorded for the record. We are not in the business of hiding information so are therefore supplying the information that was  given at the meeting on 24/9/09.

This meeting was attended by Paul Smith, Nature conservation officer at Sandwell Council, a completely independent observer to swan watch and Rhodia. Local residents, nor anyone else were invited to this meeting by Rhodia, the implication here is that they did not want such people to hear the questioning of their interpretations and the lack of sound science behind them by myself. Based on my recollections, (and I have a very good memory for useless information) of the meeting and Paul Smith’s notes we agreed a set of draft minutes. These were sent to Tom Dutton who replied that he did not agree with them. Despite being given the opportunity and asked why and which of the numbered points he did not agree to, he  declined to do so, only giving “the key points of the meeting “ as he recalls. In the interests of fairness, we are including his key points. It can be seen that all of his “key points” are already included in these draft minutes, so  why did he not agree with them?

 FOR the purposes of information we have also included some relevant links to further explain some points made.

Draft minutes of meeting held at Rhodia Oldbury on 24/9/09 3.00pm



1.       T D outlined the recent white phosphorus report by explaining that the swan which had died in March had initially been post mortemed by the Veterinary Laboratories Agency (VLA )at Shrewsbury along with a duck which had also been found dead on the same day. VLA REF NUMBER 26-B0069-03-09. Rhodia had taken both birds into the centre. He explained that after the post mortem had offered no conclusive cause of death, the VLA had sent the initial samples of the swan for testing to a laboratory.

2.       The VLA however had mistakenly asked for a” phosphorus test”   not a white phosphorus test  , which meant that all phosphates  e.t.c would have been found as “total phosphorus”- this would have offered no meaningful insight into cause of death.

3.        Rhodia recommended Harlan labs in Derbyshire to the VLA as a lab which could carry out a specific white phosphorus test. Samples of the swan were submitted via the VLA to Harlan.

4.       TD produced the 20 page report explaining that 5g of gizzard, skin, liver and body fat were sent for testing. He outlined the process of how the testing was done and concluded that some white phosphorus had been found.

5.       14.8mg of white phosphorus per kilogram of gizzard tissue had been found in the gizzard. (This is stated in the Harlan report.) Other samples from the bird had not shown such significant amounts-<0.02 mg/kg tissue with a slight blip in the liver tissue reading that may have been attributable to background noise. IC stated that this is exactly where the white phosphorus would have been expected to have been found, and that the other readings would also be expected to be lower in the other tissues. TD agreed with this.

6.       .JH and TD then stated that they would send out copies of the report to the VLA, local residents, PS, a local councillor, the E.A and would be talking to Adrian Bailey MP who was incidentally doing a factory visit the next day. TD said he would also send a cover letter explaining the result and what Rhodia thought it meant.

7.       TD then stated that Rhodia did not believe there had been enough white phosphorus found in the swan to have killed it, a point which IC disputed strongly. IC pointed out the delay in analysis and the effects of oxidation. T D conceded this point, but showed a calculation he had made about the amount of white phosphorus found in the swan compared to the lethal dose found in the Eagle River Flats study (which had taken place in controlled laboratory conditions). The swan in the VLA post mortem weighed 9.19 kg, the gizzard weight and contents had not been measured. TD quoted an average gizzard weight of “200g” which he had found on the internet and applied this in a calculation.

8.       JH said that the main thing was that some white phosphorus had been found which had significantly  moved things on with Rhodia committed to tackling this obvious cause for concern- PS and IC agreed that this was indeed a significant discovery (white phosphorus being highly toxic by ingestion to wildfowl in small amounts see.Eagle River Flats studies).

 9.       .Rhodia  had outlined two proposals of capping with a cover liner or bird balls to cover the pool. Both options had positives and negatives but would probably cost the same amount of money, a figure of £400,000 was mentioned. TD presented a sample of the liner and metal mesh cover that could anchor it.  IC asked if the contractor had any experience of capping in this way on similar lagoons. JH said that they had not carried out capping on lagoons using the material before but were confident it could be done. The liner would have to be weighted down as it would otherwise float on the surface.


10.   TD and JH then explained the second report on contouring of the pool. T D explained that  contractors had been mapping the pool and looking at the consistency of the sediment. He stated that they had been surprised at how soft it was near to the surface, and it could be described as being “SUPER SOFT” with a “flour” like consistency. They were also surprised that there was much more of the sediment within 1 metre of the water surface than they had first thought. This report was not shown at the meeting but it was highlighted that it could be made available for people to see.

 11.   I C queried what would happen when 1, the matting was laid and 2 the proposed pipe removal took place and how long it would take for “the dust to settle”. TD said that there would need to be many risk assessments done before the pipe removal could take place and that the proposed winter removal had now been post phoned. JH said that it would probably settle in a few days and that they would be doing a trial on part of the lake soon to see if the capping could be done.

 12.   .I C then queried protocol of scaring birds away in light of the new information and about future post mortems, he stated that the VLA were keen to receive any birds from the site. TD   said that it could be possible for future post mortem white phosphorus analysis. TD said that birds could still be scared away.

 13.   IC queried the historic contamination of the embankment in the soil. His research had found the former Albright and Wilson Clevedon site where phosphorus had been capped in dry pits under soil, later caused problems. JH said they would look into this.

 14.    IC queried what Rhodia’s closure plan entailed, TD stated that Rhodia did have a closure plan but did not elaborate on what it involved.

 15.   IC queried if Rhodia should have to pay for post mortems/ remediation e.t.c given the historic links with military weapons having been disposed of in the lagoon. TD and JH said that all responsibilities lay with the company as there was a clearly defined process of the company being the principal depositor of a waste stream into the lagoon.

 16.   IC also queried the existence of Chromium 6 ion identified in the Cremer and Warner report <1 mg/KG (This ion is highly carcinogenic) J H said that this would likely to be solid material in the sediment. JH said that Rhodia were committed to resolving the problem and that they were meeting senior managers from France about the issue who were supportive of the proposals for the site. Meeting concluded after 4.15 pm Ian Carroll





The following questions were asked after the meeting and report was studied.

 From:  IC

Sent: 30 September 2009 13:56
Subject: Re: RattlechainT Report


I have 3 queries.

1. Could you please set out your calculation and interpretation of the Harlan report project number 0071/0783 and the basis for Rhodia’s subsequent conclusion that the swan, tissues of which were sent for analysis at Harlan labs in July , did not ingest a fatal dose of white phosphorus from the Rattlechain sediment.

2. Could you let me have a copy of the report/map of the sediment contours and consistency of the recent on site investigation at the pool?

3. Could you send me draft minutes of the meeting of 24/9/09 for my comments to agree on a final draft set, as is standard business practice?



Ian Carroll



  “DUTTON, Tom”



1 Our key conclusion was that not enough P4 was found in the swan to confirm that the swan died from P4 ingestion. If we assume the average swan gizzard weighs 200g and the average swan weighs 8kg then the results in the report indicate that the swan ingested approximately 10% of the LD50 of P4 for swans. Note that this key conclusion is exactly the same as that of the VLA (See report 7 that has been sent to you from VLA). 

2 We have talked through the main conclusions from this report with you.

3 As you will have noticed I did not make any notes during our meeting and so it is not possible for me to produce minutes of the meeting. I was also not asked to prepare minutes during the meeting.  


I will continue to update you with progress on this matter. Rest assured we are trying to co-operate with all interested parties to find a way forward but some of your questions seem to me to be attempts to catch us out and I am uncomfortable with this.   




 Tom Dutton in his reply to my 1st question sets out a bogus calculation, involving “assuming an average swan gizzard weighs 200g”. I do not know where he has found this weight from.

He “assumes” that the average weight for a swan is 8kg. This swan’s weight was known- 9.19kg.  He inserts his interpretation between his conclusion and the VLA interpretation  which is based on their interpretation of the ERF study. An LD50 is the amount which 50% of something dies after a known quantity of a chemical is administered or ingested. The VLA do not make a conclusion about how much white phosphorus that the swan ingested because this figure will never be known, nor can it be calculated by a figure “found” in a piece of gizzard tested.


The gizzard material tested did not reflect the contents inside it.


“Approx 10ml of sandy grit material” was identified by the VLA in the gizzard on gross post mortem, as well as the grit material in the oesophagus. CRUCIALLY THIS MATERIAL WAS NOT ANALYSED FOR WHITE PHOSPHORUS. Combined with the 4 month delay in testing whereby there would inevitably have been some oxidation, the total amount of white phosphorus ingested by the swan has not been determined but would certainly have exceeded that finally “found” in the 5g piece of gizzard tissue tested.

The National swan convention, an umbrella group for National swan rescue organisations has records from dozens of swan gizzard weights, compiled for an ongoing Environment Agency Research and Development study on lead poisoning.

The following comments have been received from the organisation concerning this issue

  • “It seems to me Dr. Dutton is wriggling in an uncomfortable and uncontrollable fashion on the end of a toasting fork. It’s probably a bit late now, but it would be far better to admit, with as much good grace as he can muster, that there really is a white phosphorus issue, and to move on. That means seeking as much help as can be found to find solutions to the problem. It strikes me as quite unacceptable (also very surprising), that, given the facts as we understand them, he has not been in touch with the Eagle River Flats (ERF) personnel.
  •  In the correspondence I have seen, the key statement is that made by one of the scientists involved with the ERF issue, namely, that if there is any trace of white phosphorus in the body of a dead swan, then there is every probability death can be attributed to that cause alone.
  •  It is perhaps worth stating I have failed totally to understand the nature of the calculations Dr. Dutton is seeking to perform. Is it something to do with LD50? If so, it seems hardly relevant in the case of something which is as toxic and fast acting as white phosphorus. However, for the record live swan weights (full grown adult) are as follows:

                        Female: 7.5 – 11.7 kg.        Male: 9.2 – 14.3 kg.

  •                         Typically, females are 1 kg. heavier in the breeding season; also, there is approximately a 1 kg. loss of weight as a result of the moult.
  •  Work in which The National Swan Convention has been involved has shown, again, for full grown birds, gizzards (plus proventriculus) weigh 160 – 635 grams. (n = 118, median = 300 grams, standard deviation is 95 grams).
  •  Thus both the assumptions upon which Dr. Dutton is basing his calculations are unsound. In any case, I fail totally to see the relevance of gizzard weight.
  •  In conclusion, and for what it is worth, the work with which we have been involved for about the last dozen years has demonstrated beyond any reasonable doubt that while swans become very ill, and do die from lead poisoning, the rate and severity of response to ingesting lead actually varies enormously. Thus swans with proven very high blood lead levels can show very few symptoms of lead poisoning, while others with very much lower blood lead values show extreme symptoms, and despite appropriate treatment quite often die.”


Marianne Walsh a chemical engineer and analytical chemist who worked at Eagle River Flats has made the following observations and comments on this issue and we sincerely thank and appreciate her independent opinion.   

  • “I must emphasize that the absolute concentration found in the tissues is not the real issue. The fact that P4 was detected is an indication of exposure to an acutely lethal chemical. The amount detected is only what is left over after the lethal dose has poisoned the bird (that is excess amount above the lethal dose).” 
  • “There is no doubt that this swan ingested a lethal dose of white phosphorus.”
  • “I disagree with the statement that ‘the amount detected is very small’. The lab had to dilute the sample 100 times prior to analysis. The mass found in the gizzard tissue is the mass not absorbed by the swan. “
  • …” about 30mg of white phosphorus will kill a swan. However, you would not expect to find this mass in the tissues because mass absorbed has been metabolized.”
  • “it is likely that the concentration of WP measured four months after death are less than they would have been if the tissues were fresh. How much so is anyone’s guess.”
  • “The LD50 experiments show that a very small mass of white phosphorus is lethal to a swan.”
  • “For a 10 kg swan, only less than 40 mg can be a lethal dose. For perspective, picture a child’s aspirin that typically has a mass of 80 mg.  The oral LD50s for sodium and potassium cyanide are about 100 and 200 mg/kg respectively”
  • “…in ducks found at Eagle River Flats, we collect the gizzard contents that generally consists of sandy grit material. We detect variable amounts of WP(microgram to milligram quantities)”


  •  “ Bottomline, white phosphorus is extremely toxic by ingestion. Any white phosphorus found in a swan is evidence that white phosphorus poisoning is the likely cause of death.”