Pecket Well, Saturday 8th April|
Richard Hull, Pecket Well Resident
Residents of Pecket Well yesterday called on Wadsworth Parish Council to consider two alternative plans for dealing with the problems of asbestos exposure at the Carr Head Landfill Site. A packed meeting at the Robin Hood pub listened attentively for nearly an hour to a detailed presentation by local man Mr Stuart Bradshaw, a chartered and experienced Geotechnical Engineer, who outlined two additional options for stabilising the site. Neither of his suggested options would mean severe disruption of the site or the import of substantial amounts of extra landfill.
Wadsworth Parish Council, acting on the advice of Calderdale Technical Services Department, have applied for planning permission to effectively bury the site under a massive amount of imported landfill, which would require 17,500 lorry loads and take anything up to four years to complete. Mr Bradshaw's options, by contrast, rely on stabilising the steeply sloping site using an established engineering technique called 'Soil Nails'. This option had not been considered in any of the three consultancy reports commissioned over the last two and a half years.
The problem at the Carr Head site is that top soil is slipping down the slope, which could potentially leave asbestos exposed to the air. If the asbestos then dries out it can be released into the air as fibres. If the fibres are inhaled they can cause a variety of illnesses, some fatal. To date, the monitoring by Calderdale and the two geo-environmental surveys have not detected any asbestos exposed at the site, nor any fibres in the air, but they have found asbestos only a foot below the soil surface, which is far shallower than should be the case.
Mr Bradshaw's presentation described a technique for dealing with this problem of 'slope stability'. He began carefully with a general description of the work of Geotechnical engineers, whose role is to analyse the stability of any piece of ground, and is thus central to virtually all civil engineering projects. He described the problem of slope stability (embankments for example), and the methods used to understand and deal with such problems. He then described the technique of 'Soil Nails', which has been widely used in this country for over ten years, and elsewhere for over 25 years. Soil Nails are lengths of steel tubing or steel bars, driven into sloping ground and into the bedrock below, and capped with steel plates at ground level. They are spaced about 1-3 metres apart. The whole slope is then covered with a plastic netting that has hessian matting and grass seed embedded into it, so that the whole area is eventually covered in grass. He provided numerous photographs of the technique in use at many different sloping sites, and photographs of the small mobile 'rigs' - machines on caterpillar tracks which drive the steel 'nails' into the ground. He described how he had worked on many such projects, including ones where stability was required for over 100 years, but admitted that he knew of no cases where it had been used with asbestos tips.
After hearing and discussing Stuart's suggestion, residents at the meeting agreed that pressure should now be exerted on Wadsworth to consider these options before proceeding further with their planning application. Calderdale MBC have told Wadsworth that unless the Parish Council takes action to prevent asbestos exposure, Calderdale could carry out the work itself and charge the cost to the Parish Council. Calderdale Technical Services Department have advised the Parish Council on what it considers the best option, and advised the Parish Council to appoint Calderdale as its agent to carry out the work. The advice from Calderdale Technical Services is based on two geo-environmental surveys carried out in early 1998, whose brief was to examine the extent of environmental contamination, the stability of the site, and options for remedial action. These were commissioned by West Yorkshire Waste Disposal Authority in December 1997, following a complaint to Calderdale by someone who had found asbestos close to the surface after digging illegally on the site (which should have been fenced off securely at the time, but was not). In 1999 Calderdale then commissioned a more thorough 'interpretive report' from one of the two original consultancy companies, which examined in more detail the six original options for action. These options - which did not include any use of the Soil Nail technique, and did not provide examples or experience from any other remedial action on asbestos tips - were then considered in turn by Technical Services in their Feasibility Report. They rejected four of them with very brief justification, and considered two in more detail - 'in-filling the valley with imported landfill', and 'moving landfill waste to the valley bottom' - with detailed costings and risk assessments. These clearly come out in favour of the first (Option 5 in the Report), and that is now their advice to Wadsworth.
The Feasibility Report and the three consultancy reports will be on view to the public at Wadsworth Community Centre on Tuesday 11th April between 2pm and 8pm, and representatives of Calderdale Technical Services will also be present to answer questions. Residents are proposing to attend en-masse between 6.30 and 7pm. Mr Bradshaw will also be present to describe his suggestions again.
On a personal note, I just want to make the following brief points:
I have lived here for over 11 years, and my partner has lived here for over 25 years. We are very close to the site, and our 10 year-old daughter has played on the playground that is next to the site. Until now we have never been unduly worried, believing that the site was properly monitored. It is tempting to worry now about possible exposure in the past, but that worry must be put to one side whilst we sort out the current problem of landslip. When that is satisfactorily dealt with, we can then begin to ask a great many questions about the ways the site has been monitored in the past. I gather that prior to December 1997 Calderdale only monitored the site once a year. That has clearly been insufficient to ensure continued safety of the site, otherwise this whole situation would never have arisen. I would personally hope that someone can be held accountable for this error, even if only it is those who set standards and guidelines for monitoring this type of site.
- There must therefore be continued monitoring of the site for asbestos exposure starting immediately, whatever happens. I really don't know how often this should be, but I would think at least once a month, and more frequently following sustained rain or snow, and during long dry periods. If that means video cameras and air-quality meters then so be it. All of the possible options should include this in their costing (they don't at the moment).
- Having read all three consultancy reports, and the Feasibility Report, I am beginning to have doubts about whether Calderdale Technical Services Department, or indeed West Yorkshire Waste Disposal Authority who commissioned the first two reports, have the necessary expertise to deal with the current problem, and to monitor and manage the site when the current problem is dealt with. Whilst I am generally in favour of the devolution of political power, I think I would rather that a central government agency, with the best expertise available, had day-to-day responsibility for sites like this.