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Statement on public health concerns arising from odours in Newcastle area

Posted on Thursday 1st April 2021
Latest news newsroom

There are ongoing problems of odour in west Newcastle, in the vicinity of Walleys Quarry and further afield. A range of agencies including the Environment Agency, Public Health England, Staffordshire County Council and Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough Council are working together to monitor and try to remedy the situation.

Dr Richard Harling, Staffordshire County Council’s Director of Care and Health, said:

We are aware of the ongoing problems of odour in west Newcastle, in the vicinity of Walleys Quarry and further afield. We know that this is distressing for residents and we understand their concerns about possible health implications.

We cannot exclude a risk to health from pollutants in the area, although we would stress any risk to health is likely to be small and short term – for example temporary irritation to the eyes, nose and throat..

We are working with a range of national and local agencies to monitor and try to remedy the situation.

The Environment Agency has issued an enforcement notice requiring the operator to carry out work to reduce emissions from the Walleys Quarry site and the operator has temporarily suspended landfill activities to ensure that these can be completed. We hope that these actions will improve air quality over the next six to eight weeks.

We are also aware of a suggestion that there may be hydrogen sulphide contamination in water near to Walleys Quarry. Information has been received from the operator and is being studied. There are no public water supply abstractions in the immediate vicinity and Severn Trent Water has confirmed that there is absolutely no risk to drinking water and has sampled water from users’ taps to make sure.

If people have symptoms they should seek health advice and start at their local, or on-call pharmacy.”

Dr Nic Coetzee, health protection consultant with Public Health England (PHE) Midlands, said:

Persistent, unpleasant smells can be very distressing for people, however while they may be a nuisance to residents, they are rarely likely to cause significant or long-term harms to health.

Emissions from landfill sites often contain hydrogen sulphide gas, which has a strong smell of rotten eggs. Some people may experience feelings of nausea, headaches and some irritation to nose, throat and eyes when smelling this gas. We are working with public health partners in Staffordshire to monitor emissions in the area around the Walleys Quarry Landfill site. At present we have found nothing to indicate people should have concerns for serious or long-term effects to their health.”

A spokesperson for Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough Council said:

We are working closely with the site regulators and public health agencies as well as continuing to carry out our own air quality investigation.

While this important work is being carried out, we would also like to reassure residents that there are no public or private water supplies in the area surrounding Walleys Quarry.

In the meantime, we’re encouraging residents to keep reporting odour issues to us via our website or through the Environment Agency.”

Staffordshire County Council is also responsible for monitoring planning conditions including highway cleanliness in the vicinity of the site and maximum number of vehicle movements per week. It continues to do so actively and if residents have any concerns in those areas they should contact regulation@staffordshire.gov.uk  .

 

Additional information

The Environment Agency has issued Red Industries, the operator of Walleys Quarry landfill with an enforcement notice that outlines the specific steps it needs to take to address the permit breaches identified at the site.  

The Environment Agency has given Red Industries until 30 April 2021 to make the necessary improvements to permanently cap part of the site, and temporarily cap other parts of the site.
This enforcement notice makes this a legal requirement and if these steps are not made we will take further regulatory action.
For the full details about the enforcement notice and the Environment Agency’s regulatory approach see: https://consult.environment-agency.gov.uk/west-midlands/walleys-quarry-landfill-sliverdale/

 

Q&A

What are landfill gases?
Landfill gases are formed when biodegradable waste (such as food scraps, paper, and wood) rot and decompose (breakdown by bacteria) or evaporate. Emissions are a mixture of mostly methane and carbon dioxide, with very small quantities of other gases.

What can I smell in the area near the Walleys Quarry Landfill Site?
Some of the smells in the area may be a result of the landfill gas not being captured on Walleys Quarry Landfill Site. Landfill gas is mostly methane and carbon dioxide, which are odourless and colourless. However, emissions also contain hydrogen sulphide which, even in small quantities, has a strong smell of rotten eggs.

Although the hydrogen sulphide smell can be strong and unpleasant, it does not automatically mean that it is harmful. Our sense of smell is very sensitive and is often stimulated at very low levels, which may be a nuisance to those in the area but would not be at levels expected to cause any harm to health.

What is hydrogen sulphide?
Hydrogen sulphide occurs both naturally and through human activity and is a trace gas commonly found in landfill gas which causes the rotten egg smell. Hydrogen sulphide can be smelt at much lower concentrations than the levels that cause harm.

Where are the smells being reported?
The smell has been reported across a wide area and is not exclusive to one location.

Are the smells causing or going to cause health effects?
The human nose is very sensitive to smell, and there are many things that have a very strong odour at levels below which there is a harmful effect to health. However, strong odours are unpleasant and can impact on wellbeing, leading to stress and anxiety.

Some people may also experience symptoms, such as nausea, headaches, or dizziness, as a reaction to strong smells, even when the substances themselves are not harmful to health. Some residents’ symptoms may be as a result of their individual reaction to particular odours.

What are the health effects of hydrogen sulphide?
Following exposure to any substance, the adverse health effects depend on several factors, including the amount to which you are exposed (dose), the way in which you are exposed – such as breathing it in, eye or skin contact, the duration of exposure, the form of the chemical, and if you were exposed to any other chemicals.

The first noticeable effect of hydrogen sulphide at very low concentrations is its unpleasant odour. At higher concentrations it may cause eye, nose and throat irritation.

Strong unpleasant odours are known to cause symptoms such as nausea, headaches, stress and anxiety, even when the substance that causes the smell are below levels that could cause any harm to health. It may also disturb sleep if experienced at night at low levels.

At the levels monitored so far, Public Health England does not expect there to be any long-term health consequences from the levels of hydrogen sulphide detected in the area around Walleys Quarry Landfill Site. However, the unpleasant odour may cause discomfort and some short-term health effects, such as eye, nose and throat irritation.

“If people have symptoms they should seek health advice and start at their local, or on-call pharmacy.”

What have the readings shown? What are the World Health Organization’s guidelines for hydrogen sulphide?
The Environment Agency recently shared with Public Health England an Interim Air Quality report for Silverdale in response to ongoing odour issues in the vicinity of Walleys Quarry Landfill site. This report included data from the 4th to 17th March 2021.

 On the 7th and 8th of March 2021, at one of the monitoring stations off Galingale View, the 24-hour average concentrations of hydrogen sulphide, were above the World Health Organization’s (WHO) 24-hour health-based guideline value of 150 µg/m3. The highest recorded 24-hour average concentration was 202 µg/m3 on the 8th March. Monitoring indicates that after the 8th March the hydrogen sulphide concentrations reduced to levels below the WHO 24-hour health– based guideline value. In order to avoid substantial complaints about odour annoyance, hydrogen sulphide concentrations should not be allowed to exceed the WHO air quality guideline value (odour nuisance) of 7 µg/m3 (5 ppb) 30-minute averaging period.

The Environment Agency is undertaking further monitoring, and Public Health England will continue to review the data to assess any possible impact on public health.

Some of the readings exceeded the WHO guidelines, does this effect health?
Exposure to concentrations of hydrogen sulphide above the WHO 24-hour health-based guideline value does not necessarily mean health effects will occur. Due to the brief time period of elevated concentrations we would not expect there to be any long-term health consequences, however individuals may experience unpleasant odour and occasional nausea, headaches, dizziness, or irritation of eyes and airways.

At the levels monitored so far, Public Health England (PHE) does not expect there to be any long-term health consequences from the levels of hydrogen sulphide detected around Walley’s Quarry Landfill Site. However, PHE recognises that odour is a nuisance which can cause stress and anxiety. Some people may experience symptoms such as nausea, headaches or dizziness even when a substance that causes the smells is not harmful to health at the levels experienced.

Can hydrogen sulphide cause cancer?
There is no evidence to suggest that exposure to hydrogen sulphide would cause cancer in humans.

Are there any health conditions which make people particularly sensitive to hydrogen sulphide?
People with breathing difficulties such as asthma may be more sensitive to the effects of hydrogen sulphide. This is because hydrogen sulphide can cause irritation of the airways leading to cough and shortness of breath.  

What are the potential mental health effects associated with landfills?
The presence of persistent, unpleasant odours may cause annoyance, possibly leading to stress and anxiety, among the local population below levels that could cause any significant or long-term harm to health.

Individual responses to odours are highly variable and are influenced by many factors including sensitivity, age, prior exposure to odour and psychological and social factors. Members of the public should consult their family doctor if they are concerned about any effects on their health from exposure to odours.

What should I do if I am concerned about my symptoms?
If people have symptoms they should seek health advice and start at their local, or on-call pharmacy.

What can I do to reduce my risk?
The key to reducing the impact on the community is effective gas management on site at Walley’s Quarry Landfill Site. The Environment Agency is continuing to regulate the site as a priority to make sure the company make improvements to reduce the odour as quickly as possible.

Individuals can close doors and windows while the smell is present and then open them to ventilate their premises when the smell has cleared.

Public Health England does not expect there to be any long-term health consequences from the levels monitored so far around Walley’s Quarry Landfill Site. However, the unpleasant odour may cause discomfort and some short-term health effects.

 What will happen next?
The Environment Agency (EA) has installed air quality monitoring equipment. EA will share the results with the multi-agency partners including Public Health England (PHE) as they become available. PHE will continue to analyse and review the data collected.

 Where can I find more out about hydrogen sulphide?
If you search for the term hydrogen sulphide online, you will find more information: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/hydrogen-sulphide-properties-incident-management-and-toxicology

You can also look at the World Health Organization’s website for more information.

What about other gases that may be present – is there any monitoring/health effects of those?
The Environment Agency are monitoring a range of substances and once further monitoring data has been received, PHE will review data against relevant health-based standards and guidelines.

 

Roles and responsibilities

The Environment Agency regulates the two environmental permits held by Red Industries RM Limited for the landfill. The permit covers onsite activities with the aim of minimising the impact on the local environment in terms of air quality, noise, odour, dust, leachate and impacts to groundwater. That permit is enforced through monitoring and undertaking site visits, announced and unannounced, and where needed we take enforcement action to address compliance issues.

Staffordshire County Council is responsible for determining and monitoring planning permission. Through its public health responsibilities, it is also an independent voice supporting the health of the county’s population.

Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough Council is responsible for monitoring air quality across the area, including the assessment of statutory nuisance.

Public Health England (PHE) exists to protect and improve the nation’s health and wellbeing and reduce health inequalities. We do this through world-leading science, knowledge and intelligence, advocacy, partnerships and the delivery of specialist public health services. We are an executive agency of the Department of Health and Social Care, and a distinct delivery organisation with operational autonomy. We provide government, local government, the NHS, Parliament, industry and the public with evidence-based professional, scientific and delivery expertise and support.
Website: www.gov.uk/phe   Facebook: www.facebook.com/PublicHealthEngland
Follow on Twitter @PHE_UK   @PHE_WestMids

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Contact the newsroom

These contact details are for journalists and members of the media only:

Email: pressoffice@staffordshire.gov.uk
Call: 01785 895050

If you are not a journalist or member of the media and have a general enquiry please:

Email: contactus@staffordshire.gov.uk
Call: 0300 111 8000