OVERVIEW OF THE MURKY HISTORY OF “RATTLECHAIN LAGOON”
Rhodia claim that in 1948, the year in which Albright and Wilson became a public limited company, an acquisition of a former brick work clay pit which had been flooded in 1899 following a major breach of the nearby Birmingham Canal Mainline took place. This was to deposit their chemical waste stream. There is independent proof of evidence from minutes of the original committee which granted the waste disposal licence in 1978, that the site was actively in use for this purpose from 1942.
The brickworks “disued” pit received “waste” from their industrial processes at their Oldbury factory, and was initially delivered by canal boat haulier Alfred Matty from Coseley to at least 1970, though it appears that the chemical firm retained the carrier’s services after this date.
The contents of this slurry and drums containing chemical waste cannot be verified since allegedly, according to Rhodia no records were kept. It is certain that large amounts of white phosphorus lie in situ in the sediment and the mixture in terms of weight, (given that it is insoluble in water), and this is not disputed by Rhodia, though they prefer to present the figure in parts per million or as a per centage of the overall weight. This offers a grossly misleading perspective about the level of toxic hazard in the sediment which amounts to many tonnes.
A gravity fed pipe was added on the site to make waste dumping easier, with a subsidiary lagoon and causeway path carved out of the single pool in the early 1960’s. Later around 1970, waste disposal switched to road tanker with site boundary changes to the John’s Lane side lagoon and fence line. In 1978 a waste disposal licence SL31 was issued by The West Midlands County Council.
In 1990 a report on the site was carried out by consultants Cremer and Warner on behalf of the regional development agency, The Black Country Development Corporation. This report detailed several findings about the waste contents and recommendations about how to remediate the site when the company finally wanted to surrender the licence. Sandwell council became the waste regulatory authority after West Midland’s county council dissolved, before the Environment Agency came into being in 1996.
Albright and Wilson were taken over by French company Rhodia in 2000 and took on all Albright and Wilson’s UK operations. In 2006 dumping on the site ceased, with Rhodia preferring not to continue this method of disposal. Before their licence can be surrendered they would have to submit a closure plan, detailing how they would make the site safe. Unfortunately this toxic laced sediment has now been further buried by Solvay who took over Rhodia’s operations, though the name “Rhodia Limited” remains out of convenience on the “closed site” licence.
Rhodia, have been reluctant to accept that white phosphorus (P4) is causing the deaths of birds on the lagoon and have asked for “direct evidence”. The Veterinary Laboratories Agency (VLA) , now known as AHVLA following its merger with Animal Health, who have carried out some post mortems on birds are unable to test for this chemical in the bird carcasses. A specialist laboratory paid for by Rhodia has carried out white phosphorus tests. These tests have so far confirmed the presence of white phosphorus in 12 birds. This was mainly in the gizzard tissue of dead swans, Canada geese, mallards, a tufted duck and coot retrieved from the lake, with systemic poisoning also confirmed in several birds.
Delay in analysis of testing dead birds for this chemical continues to hamper investigation.
The Environment Agency, the current regulators of the site refused to test sediment in the lake even though it was clearly poisoning birds. Their regulation of the site has been utterly farcical.