SMBC FOI 2- Rattlechain fire correspondence

Correspondence on file with Albright and Wilson reference planning application DC/03/40538


The above application was granted on appeal to build 100 houses on the site of a former sewage works, located immediately next to Rattlechain Lagoon on its Southern boundary. This was not the subject of this request, but as part of the correspondence submitted on the council planning portal website, two historic letters from Albright and Wilson’s then health and safety manager, Mr Frances Michael Peters can be found. The first is a letter to the council concerning waste tipping occuring next to their boundary in John’s Lane dated 11th May 1990 to the council’s waste management division.

It is the second letter in this PDF file which is more interesting, and the subject of our inquiry. This letter from Mr Peters to a Mr D. Whitford of The Hazardous Waste unit dated 10th October 1989 concerns a white phosphorus fire at Rattlechain lagoon which occured on 8th of that same month.
The letter describes “investigation at the scene indicated that the fire was caused by traces of phosphorus contained in contaminated soil close to the edge of the main lagoon”.
It continues “An excavator was brought to the site, and this was used to skim off the surface of the soil close to the lagoon and drop the contaminated material into the lagoon.”
Furthermore it goes on to say “it is apparent from this chain of events that we need to ensure that if any material containing traces of phosphorus is spilled onto the surface of the land area for any reason, we quickly excavate and ensure that all contaminated material is submerged beneath the water of the lagoon.”

This letter can be read BELOW.


“Given that you were able to retrieve this document from your files, and notwithstanding that it may be 21 years ago, do you have on file and can you provide to me by electronic means the subsequent reply from Mr D. Whitford to this letter from Albright and Wilson, which indicates whether this arrangement was considerednto be satisfactory.
I take it that if no letter exists or was not replied to then this scenario concerning the burial of highly toxic material WAS considered to be satisfactory at this time.”


If it was the case that Albright and Wilson were allowed to bury any subsequent white phosphorus material spilt on land under the water, this is quite a profound causal relationship between the management of the lagoon- and its regulation, and the subsequent bird deaths. Barrelled spilt waste known to contain white phosphorus being mixed with soil and dumped under the water in accessible reach of water birds is not a good way of disposing of toxic waste in the environment- just so that a company can avoid any future public relations scrutiny of its activities- especially if it was sanctioned by its supposed “regulator”.


A reply was received from Sandwell council.

“I have checked the planning application file and can find no copy of any reply to that letter.

The Environmental Protection Section also reports that it does not have a copy of Mr Whitford’s reply to the letter in question.

The Hazardous Wastes Unit has now been transferred to the Environment Agency at Sentinel House, 9 Wellington Crescent, FradleyPark, Lichfield, Staffordshire, WS13 8RR.  It might be worth contacting the Environment Agency since I understand that Mr D Whitford still works there.”


This “beach area” was the dumping ground for toxic white phosphorus material for many years.  It remains there as it had been dumped, out of sight, out of mind. Like “marsh gas”- any letter from the Hazardous waste unit in reply to the Health and safety manager appears to have disappeared.