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Gases and odour at Path Head landfill site

 

There is an ongoing issue with strong and unpleasant odour coming from the Path Head landfill site. This is causing discomfort and distress for the people living nearby. 

Gateshead Council is working closely with the Environment Agency and Public Health England (PHE) to help bring an end to this issue as quickly as possible.

The council, including our Director of Public Health and her team, have been working with expert technical and health protection advisers in Public Health England (PHE) to respond to the health concerns.

An open meeting was held on 25 February. There were lots of questions raised that were directly relevant to the council, with particular regards to Planning and Public Health; two areas which the council are responsible for.

These questions and answers are listed below.

Planning

The Environment Agency is doing lots, what’s the council doing?

The main issue of concern is odour from the Path Head Landfill site. The Gateshead Council are working closely with the Environment Agency (EA) to ensure that the current issue can be resolved as quickly as possible. The council wrote to the operator to remind them of their responsibilities and ask for details of what action they were to take.

However this issue falls within the remit of the Environment Agency and they have the powers and expertise to take action in this respect. A MOU between the EA and the council agrees that the EA should lead any action in respect of odour. The council has received the same odour control plan that has been submitted to the EA for consideration.

The various roles and responsibilities of the council and the Environment Agency are set out on the Landfill sites page.  

What will you do to make sure the site shuts in February 2017?

Planning permission at Path Head Quarry for the landfilling the site with waste ends in February 2017. The site will not be allowed to accept waste beyond that date. If the site is not closed to accepting waste by the site operator by February 2017, there’s a range of planning enforcement powers that we can use. Discussions with the site operator about the closure of the site are already taking place and there is no reason to suspect that the site will continue to accept waste beyond February 2017.  

Will the restoration of the site use the overburden adjacent to Stargate Lane?

Overburden is previously dug-up ground that is currently laying as mounds on the site.

The approved restoration scheme for the site included use of this overburden. However the predicted volume of waste to be tipped on the site will not be achieved. Therefore a revised restoration scheme will need to be submitted to the Local Planning Authority for approval and consideration will be given to the use of this overburden mound in the restoration of the site.

Once an application has been submitted for the revised restoration scheme it is the intention of the Local Planning Authority to notify the public and invite their comments. The Local Planning Authority has also advised the site operators, Suez, that they should undertake their own public consultation events to gather public opinion on any revised restoration scheme. 

Why has the colour of Stella Burn changed?

Following recent heavy rainfall it was suspected that local mine workings have been flooded and this has resulted in a brown colouration to the water. Investigations by The Coal Authority have indicated that all infrastructure associated with the mine is in working order.  Further tests have indicated there is a presence of fluoride which suggests the water has been subjected to some treatment process.  Further investigations in conjunction with Northumbrian Water are ongoing. Whilst we are monitoring the water, there is no cause for concern.  

Why did the council grant planning permission for landfill in 2005?

The site was originally used for open cast coal extraction many years ago and the concept of filling the hole to enable the site to be restored to a suitable landform was originally granted planning permission in 1989. In 2002, an application was submitted to update the restoration and a number of years of negotiation took place. In 2005, planning permission was granted for landfill to enable restoration to a country park. This enabled a much stronger legal framework and control and enabled the council to put a ten year life span on the waste tipping operations and to agree an improved restoration scheme. 

Will the council be permitting another landfill at Crawcrook Quarry?

National Planning legislation means that through the process of compiling a local plan for the area we need to ensure that sites are safeguarded in case a future need for landfilling arises.  Crawcrook Quarry has a historic planning permission for restoration through landfilling as a result of decisions around mining made many years ago rather than a recent decision by the council.  The council is currently negotiating with the owners of part of the quarry to buy it to create a wildlife site and is in dispute with the owners of the other part of the quarry area as to the planning permission.  As time continues, given new methods of restoration and the cost of landfill, it seems extremely unlikely that this site would be used for landfilling by anything other than inert waste. Any proposals to landfill at Crawcrook Quarry would need to be fully considered by the council as the local planning authority. This process would involve public consultation.

Suez has no plans to reopen the site for the disposal of household waste. However, it is considering how it might best restore the southern edge of the site to an acceptable landform in line with planning requirements.

Health

How can we be sure that chemicals are not causing long-term health effects? Scientific evidence changes over time?

Landfill sites have been extensively studied by researchers over many years. While it is true that scientific consensus on safe levels of exposure can change as new evidence emerges, the gas measurements in the vicinity of the Path Head site have been many hundreds of times below the concentrations which would be expected to cause illness. Given the extent to which landfill gas has been studied over many years, and the extremely low levels of landfill gas escaping from the Path Head site, we are confident that residents will not develop long-term health problems as a result of living in the vicinity of the Path Head site.

Is the smell from Path Head likely to affect my health?

The smell from the Path Head landfill site is strong and unpleasant. Prolonged exposure to strong unpleasant odours can cause residents to experience symptoms such as sore throats, nausea, headaches, dizziness, and watery eyes. It can also cause substantial disruption to residents’ everyday lives. For example, it can make it unpleasant to go outside for a walk and difficult to dry washing on a line. As well as being inconvenient, this can lead to further stress and anxiety.

These symptoms are unpleasant in themselves, but do not expect such symptoms to have any lasting effect on residents’ health because the levels of chemicals detected are well below the levels at which long-term harm can occur. There is no evidence to suggest that any gases have been released from the Path Head landfill site at toxic concentrations. 

What are the long-term health risks of living near Path Head?

Monitoring the gas emissions has shown us that the Path Head site is not releasing any gases at levels which could be harmful to health in the long-term. But we acknowledge that even at low levels the chemicals can cause nausea and other unpleasant symptoms. 

Will there be any on-going health risk once the site is capped?

The gas emissions from Path Head will continue to be monitored and regulated by the Environment Agency even after the site is capped. We do not expect any residents to develop long-term health problems as a result of living in the vicinity of the Path Head site.

What chemicals are being released from Path Head?

Path Head is one of hundreds of landfill sites in England managing non-hazardous waste.  All landfills produce ‘landfill gas’ which contains a mix of many different gases, mostly created by bacteria breaking down waste on the landfill site. The composition of landfill gas is determined from the type of waste being deposited on site.

Path Head has a system in place to manage this landfill gas. In order to measure how well this system is working, the site operator (Suez)) and the Environment Agency monitors the levels of:

  • Methane (a non-toxic chemical which makes up most of the landfill gas)
  • and Hydrogen Sulphide (H2S) an easy-to-measure gas usually present in small quantities. 

By monitoring these chemicals it is possible to calculate the likely levels of other chemicals in the landfill gases released. This is a well-recognised method for monitoring emissions from landfill sites and is used at sites around the country.

At Path Head, levels of methane and H2S have been consistently very low - many hundreds of times below the concentrations which would be expected to cause illness. This is how we know that the landfill gas being produced at the site, and the chemicals it contains, are within safe levels and not harmful to health in the long-term.

What is the evidence that landfills are not dangerous to health?

Landfill sites have been extensively studied by researchers over many years. The gas measurements in the vicinity of the Path Head site are many hundreds of times below the concentrations which would be expected to cause illness. View full details of these studies on the HPA Landfill Emissions report.

Are there any health risks to vulnerable groups such as children, pregnant women and elderly people?

Prolonged exposure to strong unpleasant odours can cause residents to experience symptoms such as sore throats, nausea, headaches, dizziness, and watery eyes. These symptoms can feel especially unpleasant for children, pregnant women and elderly people. However, symptoms caused by the odour will improve as the odour reduces. There is no evidence to suggest that any gases have been released from the Path Head landfill site at harmful concentrations. We do not expect such symptoms to have any lasting effect on residents.

Is it safe for children in nearby schools to play outside?

Yes, it is safe for children to play outside. There is no evidence to suggest that any gases have been released from the Path Head landfill site at harmful concentrations. Children will not develop long-term health problems as a result of playing outside in the vicinity of the Path Head site.

The Public Health Team at Gateshead Council are in contact with schools in the affected area to gather information and provide advice.

Why has my asthma worsened since the smell has appeared?

There is no evidence to suggest that any gases released from the Path Head landfill site are at harmful concentrations. However, some people with asthma can find that strong odours, like cold weather, can cause their symptoms to worsen. Residents who have any concerns about control of their asthma symptoms should contact their GP in the usual way.

Could gases become concentrated in my home, causing illness?

Monitoring in the vicinity of the site has shown that the Path Head site is not releasing any gases at levels which could be harmful to health in the long-term. Gas measurements have been consistently very low - many hundreds of times below the concentrations which would be expected to cause illness. There is no reason to suspect that gases would become concentrated inside buildings at higher levels than outside. Even if this were to occur, it would not be possible for them to be concentrated at high enough levels to be harmful to health.