The Rattlechain Lagoon fatality

It is certainly known that Rattlechain lagoon contains chemicals (white phosphorus) that have systemically poisoned wildfowl. There have also been anecdotal claims of at least one dog entering the water and dying when Albright and Wilson were still depositing waste in the lagoon and the tanker drivers used to leave the gates wide open for anyone to enter between runs to and from the factory.

Before licensing and in the days when the tip was a free for all unregulated depository , there are strong anecdotal recollections such as those of Malcolm Edge recalling how youths used to enter the unfenced lagoon and also the chemicals reacting within the water.

This is supported by press reports of the day as to how the lagoon water was “a peril to children” in an article from 1957. But before this, another article from 6th July 1953 Birmingham Daily Gazette confirms how one unfortunate young swimmer at this site lost their life.

Local youth John Hickinbottom appears to have been swimming and diving in the lagoon, here named as “Barnett’s pool”.  There can be no other “Barnett’s pool”, and it is interesting to see how history at this point still links it to the rattlechain brickworks and former owner, even though at this time Albright and Wilson were undisputedly depositing their phosphorus waste into the site.

The article supports how children used to swim in the pool of “unknown depth”, though not mentioned are the toxic chemical risks of doing so.

A follow up article from the same title of October 14th 1953 confirms the youth’s death as well as the callous nature of the call operator when one of his friends had tried to raise the alarm. Such an incident today would undoubtedly have made national headlines.

I do find it very odd that the company who “acquired” this site for waste disposal are not named or even asked for comment about their appalling lack of security for what was a hazardous waste tip. But it is perhaps typical that they would have accepted “no responsibility” for the actions of others or their “misadventures”, and also typical that no one in authority had bothered to ask the directors of the company what they were depositing there. It would have been interesting to see a toxicology report on the unfortunate lad, though a “broken neck” no doubt provided them and the British Government to whom they supplied their phosphorus war machine with a convenient alibi.

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What lies over the Old Rattlechain brickworks?

I’ve detailed several images as well as recollections and stories concerning the former Rattlechain Brickworks already- that canalside enterprise which left us with a disused pit that unfortunately became filled with a chemical manufacturers toxic poison waste.

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Rattlechain brickworks and former pit circa 1950; by now Albright and Wilson were tipping their poisonous waste into here- note the white stained banks.

A tool from the excellent National Library of Scotland allows composite present day  images to be superceeded onto old maps, showing the footprints of where buildings and other structures once existed. It appears to be remarkably accurate.

Shown below are several images which demonstrate where the brickworks buildings once existed in 1904,  now replaced by an abandoned and over tipped mound of foundry sand that has greened over.

At this point in time, the ground around John’s Lane was also at Water level. The adjacent pool on the left of Rattlechain was the Vono waste dumping lagoon which has now been concreted over to form The Autobase trading estate. Also shown is the former Groveland Colliery which together with the pit from Samuel Barnett’s other works “The Stour Valley New Brickworks” formed this figure of eight pool.  I will be writing more about this in an upcoming blog post.

 

At this point in time, the area was still a part of Staffordshire. It can be clearly seen how the tramway entered the pit from the works, as well as where former pit shafts were located on the North embankment and towards the South of the site and the former sewage works where Callaghan Drive now forms a border . Several footpaths cross the site.

The most striking picture shows an elevated overview of the site.

Though these buildings and what went on there are now lost to history, the name “rattlechain” given to the type of chain and the noise it made used in the brickmaking process lives on.

Barnett’s brickworks From Conurbation 1948 Crown copyright, as seen from The Birmingham canal.

The two images below show the brickworks and basin the early 1960’s at its demise, with the rattlechain bridge over the basin being the constant witness.  The brickworks replaced by shoddy over tipped mounds of  foundry sand , with the basin infilled.

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Still rattling chains

Six years ago, I set up this website in order to tell the true story of how a major local scandal of industrial pollution involving a banned rat poison and chemical weapon (white phosphorus) had been buried under water and had gone unchecked for decades, ably assisted it seems by regulators and the authorities over that time.

It started with seeing a single dead swan, (twenty years ago), a juvenile that I had followed and seen in other locations perfectly healthy until it landed on this “hazardous waste site”. More birds followed and so the long quest to proving that the company that owned the site had been responsible for all the deaths  all along by poisoning them with their waste dumped white phosphorus.

There are those who I offer a debt of thanks in helping to uncover this disgusting immoral tale. Chris Adams has always been a dependable friend and ally, and there are other rescuers (you know who you are), who have helped along the way. Ellen and Peter of The National swan convention. Wychbold swan Rescue took in many birds and I am grateful to Jan Harrigan and her team, who were as much in the dark as I was about what was going on in the early days.  I am grateful to Marianne Walsh and her husband Michael of the US Army Corp of Engineers whose guidance due to their expertise in dealing with white phosphorus poisoning at Eagle River Flats in Alaska put me on the right track that I knew I was on. Professor Bill Roebuck and Alan Hunt who similarly gave advice on the wildfowl deaths.

There are locals like Jim Price, Malcolm Edge , David Wilson and Roy Martin who have shared their stories with me and I have passed these important memories on. Others have also helped in circulating the dire situation that exists and will still exist through blogs, social media and other avenues. I also thank Tony Larner and Adam Aspinall of the Sunday Mercury, whose pieces broke important ground and threw light upon an area that many would have like to have seen buried. The website What do they know? has offered an opportunity to ask awkward questions in the public domain and revealed a great deal that had previously been buried or restricted in private meetings.

I have been to different parts of the country on a jigsaw puzzle quest to piece together events, pictures of the past , and other information relevant to exposing the truth, and I have to say, I am not nearly done yet with that!

But I would also like to take this opportunity to say “thanks for nothing” to the following organisations.

The Environment Agency.

Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council.

Defra.

The Health and Safety Executive.

The Parliamentary Ombudsman.

Natural England (English Nature).

Public Health England/Health protection Agency.

and of course last and by all means least Albright and Wilson, Rhodia and Solvay.#liarsofthechemcialindustry

Collectively the former civil servants, (and no doubt some still current), belonging to these public bodies were a bunch of  idiots, chemical industry idolaters, cretins and scum bags. Dozens of letters I sent out over the years, asking awkward questions, stating facts and getting dozens of excuses, buck passing and waffle. Your university degrees were worthless and your claimed education and scientific experience shown to be null and void in this case.

But was it just that the people who worked for these organisations were so clueless about what was contained in the lagoon and the toxic effects of white phosphorus, or that in the case of the environment agency, were happy for the company to discharge water containing the chemical into the public canal and then revealed only in an FOI request that they were unable to carry out tests to detect  that same chemical in the environment?

If you think that I am a conspiracy theorist or tin foil hat wearer, just consider the following email between civil servants concerning the white phosphorus testing of a swan on rattlechain, which I only obtained through the Freedom of Information Act. One wonders to whom they serve and why they were so desperate for a member of the public NOT to learn the truth about white phosphorus poisoning and swans?

I still maintain that the company at the centre of all this had the ability to pull strings, influence policy making and get what they wanted, when they wanted. There was certainly an insidious post war Quaker “society of friends” enterprise at work, a conspiracy among this cult, which permeated civic society,monopolised business, financial institutions, the judiciary and politics- Cadbury, Lloyds, Frys, Barclays,  etc- The Albright and Wilson’s were related to them all, and together they set about control of all of these areas . As a former military contractor for The British Government , The British Government also has face to lose in all this with their wartime mess- but to what extent do the latter day  civil service wankers get to cover it up?  For those fixers, particularly of a political persuasion who may have helped in this matter, this issue will follow you to your graves- you are all cursed.

In going forward I have now set up a facebook page to reach a larger audience. The link to this page can be found HERE.

Please give it a like and share and become part of the chain gang. The more people know the truth about what lies beneath rattlechain lagoon, the more people will hopefully be able to stop more victims of the chemical industry.

 

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An alternative 2019 calendar

 

A few days late, but here it is folks…… The alternative to Solvay’s calendar which they annually distribute around the fall out zone of their COMAH Top tier hazardous site. I might even distribute a few in the area, cause I’m such a generous and giving kind of fella. 😛

Free to download.

2019toxiccalendar

 

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A phosphorus new year

2019 marks another milestone in the unfolding story of how an industrial polluter in an urban setting interfaced with the community in which it unfortunately rests.

It is twenty years since I first noticed a dead swan on the rattlechain lagoon, which is how this all started and the long road to finding out more about white phosphorus and its toxic effects on wildfowl.

It is also a decade tomorrow when the same company who denied the bird deaths and lied about the chemicals in the lagoon that were really poisoning them made international headlines with the release of the same related chemicals and their breakdown products. This toxic assault on surrounding homes and businesses in the Langley area around the vile Trinity Street plant took nearly a decade in itself to be investigated by The Health and Safety Executive, and the foreign company fined, “Rhodia”, morphed into “Solvay”.

But whatever the name brand on the buildings, the former Albright and Wilson and their propaganda techniques have never really gone away.

Local residents still get a calendar through their doors promoting the toxic polluter who position themselves at the “centre” of the community, ignoring the fact that their COMAH top tier status puts every one of those people at great personal risk of harm.

When the practice drills and platitudes are put aside with the crackers of exploding BS , Solvay/Rhodia/Albright and Wilson failed to sound the alarm when it really mattered. THIS WAS PROVEN WHEN THEY FAILED TO SOUND THE TOXIC GAS ALARM ON 2ND JANUARY 2009, WHEN ER… A TOXIC GAS PHOSPHINE WAS RELEASED.

From the Health and Safety Executive’s report into the Rhodia phosphine fire.

SELF APPOINTED CIVIC SOCIETY

From the days of the two founding families and their political connections, those at Trinity Street have always relied on their political friends for doing them favours. They are in with the police, and they are in with the Labourite union political class. Not surprising perhaps when so many union barons are themselves middle aged white men of privilege, but “up the werrkers” eh comrades.

Take for example their boasts about the Langley lights and providing backing for this Sandwell Labour council event. You don’t have to look very far to see the connections.

yawn………

You also don’t have to look very far at how this company present their phoney “residents group”- supposedly made up of randomised local people who are able to ask questions and table issues about the factory and its effects on the local area. Many people unfortunately in Sandwell question little and are too thick to ask incisive questions about the local chemical industry and its dire effects on human health and the environment.  But when you have some people in a “residents group” to whom you have given money to groups to which they belong, the symbiont promotion is not difficult to see. Do you ask difficult questions of a host organism that provides you with financial support?

The same can be asked about “local history” and its links with civic society, and how some history can be airbrushed to present only a rose tinted series of anecdotes by people too close to see the bigger picture, or even present a balanced viewpoint. This is certainly the case in Oldbury and how the chemicals made there negatively affected the area. The smells, the industrial pollution, the fires, the deaths, the environmental pollution are never really vividly recalled and accurately sourced as they have been chronicled on this website, except framed within some form of cosy post war context that allows the present day polluter to appear as though they currently are much better than they used to be, and that this was something that just happened so many years ago. Phosphine fires are not a one off at Trinity Street.

Albright and Wilson were in the past shamelessly given advertising space within local history books, not surprising however when you learn that it is they who paid for the print run of these volumes. When the crap hit the fan in January 2009 in Langley, it was difficult to get away from the fact that very little had really changed in the dirty and dangerous polluting phosphorus factory, and also that with the advent of social media, local people had began to question more than the propaganda flyers could silence.

Oh how reassuring it must be that in 2019, 80 years since the beginning of the second world war, Langley still has an air raid siren to warn of a potential European assault on homes in the area and the prospect of toxic chemicals falling in the Midlands mist.

Langley is a place that always reminds me somehow of the Clint Eastwood film High Plains Drifter- especially in how the main protagonist moulds and grooms people into painting their town red at the end of the movie.

More homes are soon to be built on the doorstep of Trinity Street, passed by Solvay’s best mates Sandwell MBC, but I have no idea of who would possibly want to live next to a frequent hazard sounding level crossing and this top tier chemical hazard site. But I’m sure that the occupants of these “quality homes” will be comforted that on their doorstep, a Belgian outfit gives money to cancer research and sends out Christmas cards with polar bears on.

2019 is also hopefully the year in which this country will emancipate itself from the dictatorship of EU politicians and business mandarins. Solvay’s CEO, Jean Pierre Clamadieu, an ex French Government civil servant is a prime example of a Brussels based Europhile warning of impending doom and gloom about Brexit.

Should Solvay decide to close its British based factories after Britain leaves the EU in March, it would truly be a prosperous new year for the area; at last free from the grip of phosphorus based man made pollution.

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A little Phosphorus Karma

Sometimes Karma just happens, well at least in part. Two old news articles reveal that two of the founding families’ members, whose empire can be said through war to have killed thousands with their chemical weapons produced for the British Government, were not entirely protected from accident.

As I have already pointed out, the quaint imagery of the poor downtrodden Quakers who made good and gave much is a fallacy perpetuated by their latter day chronicling lackies and phosphorus fellators.

These war dodging cowards knew what they were doing and they were establishment figures mixed up in medieval barbarism towards hunting animals and birds. for their own personal gratification.

The first “unfortunate” accident- well it wasn’t really, involved one of the worst of the pack- George girls name Albright- a moustached moron of a man usually found clad in red on horse back pursuing that which was inedible.

What a prick

The Birmingham Mail article of 22nd October 1881 recounts how this creature fell into a tank of boiling water being scalded about the legs and lower body. “One for the pot” you might say- good result. The company propaganda book “100 years of phosphorus making” concurringly recounts that “he had walked into a tank which contained white phosphorus under scalding water, and had had to keep his leg there until it could be extricated.” – even better that the chemical that maimed thousands made to keep these money grabbing cult of weirdos in cheddar should have found him out and burnt his lower regions.

 

Just twelve years later, the co founder John Edward Wilson, (uncle Albert), also met with a fall during a horse accident when his carriage went off the rails. According to this report from the Birmingham Daily Post of November 4th 1893, he was “much injured” when riding around in Torquay after a horse had been startled by a passing train- ironic that his son J.W Wilson was so heavily involved in this industry.

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I have no sympathy for either of these two as a latter day reader, and if by some chance you are a direct descendent of the Albright and Wilson’s reading this, perhaps consider how the firm that put you in a strong financial position was founded on the harm it did to others through the changing nature of chemistry.

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Albright’s toxic archives #18 Oldbury under fire #2

If the 1950’s were terrible for stinks, spills and chemical fire mayhem, then things didn’t really improve at The Trinity Street Albright and Wilson site in the next decade either.

 

Where else can we start than with the main chemical of concern- white phosphorus, and a serious explosion at the vicinity of the production plant. The Birmingham Daily Post article from 9th March 1960 reveals that the local brigade had a three hour fight on their hands to deal with the major hazard.

“there is always danger at this type of factory”, a fire brigade spokesman said.”

The following day March 10th 1960 Birmingham Post added further detail in that the single storey building destroyed was “near to” the phosphorus plant. As well as claiming that production had not been affected, it is incredible that the AW spinner does not even mention that they were presumably glad that no one had been killed or injured but that “we are grateful that expensive installations were saved from harm”!

There is also the comment

“The fire brigade had a lot of fumes from the chemicals to contend with. “

Perhaps one should consider that the poor buggers living around the site, who would not have had breathing apparatus to rely on, would also have had “a lot of fumes from the chemicals to contend with” , and probably the health effects too!

One wonders how close this episode came to destroying the entire site, because if the phosphorus plant had been reached, there would have been no putting it out.

Having already had leaks of toxic gases such as phosphine and phosphorus pentoxide to contend with, the Birmingham Daily Post of 27th November 1963 gives us yet another in the form of Toluene. This gas if inhaled in large doses can cause both dizziness and potentially “fatal highs”. Perhaps that is what they were trying to do to put some “atmosphere” into the otherwise terminally depressing environment of Langley. 😛

Toluene is not nice

 What is most interesting about this article aside from the fact that four firemen were injured, is the discrepancy of the two statements made by the fire service and then Albright and Wilson.

The fire brigade stated that Albright and Wilson had told them NOT to turn off the escaping gas supply for fear of explosion, yet the AW spinner claims that they had NOT said this. SO WHICH WAS LYING?

Toluene is most definitely an explosive gas , so I have no idea why the chemists were lying. What is also interesting is why so much of this chemical was detected in high concentrations in the rattlechain lagoon sediment.

Another small snippet is given in The Birmingham Daily Post of Friday 10 March 1967. Once again firemen were required with breathing apparatus to put out a “leakage” of the unnamed chemical.

 

These repeated incidents only provide evidence that this serial environmental polluter were at large throughout the latter part of the Twentieth Century, indeed the name “Albright and Wilson” is associated with nothing but toxic risk to the Oldbury area.

But not so concerned about trespassing their chemical risks on the local community.

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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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Albright’s toxic archives #16 A phosphorus ride and Sikh

You have to hand it to Albright and Wilson in that they continued to devise novel ways in which to kill off and maim their employees, as well as offer a string of smelly and toxic assaults on the wider community of Oldbury. If it wasn’t with chemical explosions and gas leaks it was with rotting jaws and asbestos.

But as this article from the Birmingham Post of January 8th 1973 shows, the hapless workforce employed at Trinity Street were not even safe in their own homes from the curse of “The Devil’s element.”

Poor AW employee Gurdev Singh of Old Park Lane had a bloody phosphorus tanker crash through his front door and also wreck the house of his neighbour! The potential consequences of carrying such material could have been catastrophic given the nature of the chemical being carried- literally an incendiary bomb on wheels.

We already have one account of how a lorry load of material containing phosphorus waste caught fire on route to rattlechain lagoon, but a full load of the glowing stuff out of water would have taken out more than just a couple of houses.

A tanker of phosphorus arriving at Trinity Street

Tanked up

I’m not sure how the lorry skidded or what enquiry Albright and Wilson made into this fiasco, but when he signed up to work for this rotten firm , I’m sure that Mr Singh was not looking for this particular form of *Guru spiritual enlightenment! 😆

Gu means Darkness and Ru means Light. Literally translated, “Guru” means ‘The Light that dispels darkness.’

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Albright’s toxic archives 15 # Phosphorus burns

“REMEMBER PHOSPHORUS ALLOWS NO SECOND CHANCES”

These are the words issued in an Albright and Wilson propaganda video made some time in the early 1990’s, designed for its employees regarding safe handling techniques for this insidious chemical, forever linked to all of the activities and waste arisings associated with the Oldbury works.

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It certainly appears that the company were keen to take charge of employee health as regards potential chronic poisoning via phossy jaw, though conned them into believing that this was somehow all linked to “bad teeth”.

But this post deals with the main risk associated with the chemical in that it burns like hell, melts away the flesh and then sets about the bones. There are several reasons why a phosphorus fire and burns associated with it are much, much worse than any other type.

  • It is difficult to put out as it keeps burning in air until there is none left.
  • It is a sticky substance that clings to anything
  • It spits violently when burning meaning that several areas of fire can occur
  • It burns for a long time , and even when seemingly extinguished, can restart again in contact with air
  • Not only is the chemical itself highly toxic but when burning, phosphorus pentoxide smoke and phosphoric acid in contact with water also poisons you. This is particularly the case in contact with the mucous membranes or the eyes.
  • It is lipophilic and therefore attracted to fatty tissues

Here’s a quick video which demonstrates some of this.

Some online sources also reveal patients presenting with white phosphorus burns, often associated with military activities. Of course we also know about the Albright and Wilson’s toxic legacy of their disastrous “AW bombs”- made in the millions at Oldbury.

This link provides detail on the stages of phosphorus burns and their effects.

“Phosphorus burns are typically severely painful, necrotic, and yellowish in colour with a characteristic smell of garlic. They are commonly full-thickness burns, resulting from chemical and thermal insults. Systemic toxicity manifests in 3 phases:

(1) In the first 8 hours, patient may experience gastrointestinal symptoms such as abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhoea;

(2) From 8 hours to day 3, patient may be asymptomatic;

(3) From day 4 to day 8, multiorgan failure and central nervous system dysfunction may result in death. Clinicians should also be wary of predictable complications such as hypocalcemia, hyperphosphatemia, and cardiac arrhythmia. Therefore, close monitoring of electrocardiogram and serum electrolytes are important.”

Another source reveals an individual who received burns to the scalp.

The Albright and Wilson corporate video shows an image of one unlucky employee that appears to have been showered in the substance, which I understand was from the 1980’s.

To demonstrate that this was not a one off, the following article appeared in The Birmingham Post on 18th December 1972, where the unfortunate individual received burns to the face, neck and buttocks. I am not aware of the long term issues that these two men may have faced.

With accidents like this and to prevent them from being sued, is probably the main reason why AW were so keen to discharge their duty of care by ramming home the PPE issues, as well as stating they provide things like baths and shower systems in the video if any white phosphorus gets onto their workforce; the chemical industry meets  John Haigh and Norman Bates.

Where’s rubber ducky?

But it is the military use of this destructive and unnatural chemical for which burns with white phosphorus are more commonly seen today. It is a chemical weapon by proxy, and those poor buggers on the ground where it has been dropped in the theatres of war do not get ppe or waiting baths.

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