Thousands of tonnes of toxic chemicals – dubbed ‘horrifying concoctions’ – could be ‘putting people’s lives at risk’ in a Derbyshire village, a councillor believes.
Evidence of contamination in the soil and water near the Lower Somercotes site has been documented by a number of agencies over the past few decades.
This includes central government and the borough and county councils.
Thousands of tonnes of toxic materials were licensed to be dumped on the disused mine site – but it is known that many other substances, not licensed, were also deposited at the former tip.
Many of these waste chemicals were compiled on an ‘unofficial tip list’ and include radioactive and carcinogenic substances.
Accurate records of the Norman Road site, what was dumped there and in what quantities, are not available.
As plans go in for housing on part of the location, the Environment Agency and a developer insist no evidence has been found of dangerous chemicals at the surface.
But mystery surrounds what passers-by may assume is a large hill in the area.
Despite its appearance, the large mound is entirely man-made and its history as a ‘toxic tip’ is unclear.
Residents and council officials alike have stated fears over the years that substances may have reacted with each other during their time in the tip – and that their original containers may have become breached.
The dumps had operated during a time when there were less stringent restrictions on what could and should be disposed of – and how to contain it.
There was an aim to tie this up with the Control of Pollution Act in 1974.
This had also followed the 1972 Deposit of Poisonous Wastes Act – before which there was no restriction on where or how to dump hazardous materials and no requirement to keep records of their disposal.
International Mine Water Association (IMWA) documents discussing the former dump state that there is an “unknown ‘cocktail of potential contaminants” on the land.
Residents refer to the site as a ‘Pandora’s Box’ of potentially deadly chemicals and gases.
IMWA documents said in 1994 that contaminants had already been found in the nearby River Erewash.
In a meeting of the Amber Valley Borough Council planning board in September, Coun John McCabe said: “We don’t know what is down there or whether it is airborne or water-borne.”
Near the Norman Road tip, Amber Valley Rugby Club has its ground on part of a second former tip.
Plans for 99 homes across the road from the club have now been rejected by the council after Coun McCabe said at the meeting that he feared ‘people’s lives could be at risk’ from the ‘toxic tip’ nearby.
These plans had been submitted by Paul Newman New Homes.
The rejection was in large part due to the perceived risk from the historic nature of the site, close to the B600.
A campaigning resident, speaking exclusively to the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS), claims that harmful chemicals and toxic and radioactive substances are leaching through the soil and water supply beneath the mysterious tip.
These substances, they believe, are causing wider health hazards for the surrounding population.
A flurry of housing plans around the former waste dumps have caused fresh concern and fear.
Last June, plans for 200 houses were approved on a site known as Nether Farm off Birchwood, 93 metres north from the former dump – these plans are now the subject of a judicial review, led by campaigners.
A further 200 homes had been mooted for the rugby club, but were stopped at appeal over fears about contaminated soil.
There are said to be further plans for around another 200 houses on this site too, to the west off Bonnington Drive.
The land is owned by the Diocese of Derby – as detailed by the Land Registry.
When the LDRS visited the site, there was evidence in the surrounding fields of various drilling areas used to excavate soil and water samples from the ground.
One such excavation, being led by site investigation firm Central Alliance, owned by RSK, was on the site during the visit, with a large 30-metre tall drilling rig, which appeared to be extracting further cores from the ground.
It is not known what the investigation being led by Central Alliance relates to.
Scattered around fields off Bonnington Drive, adjacent to the Nether Farm site, and up to the former tip site, were submerged caps with padlocks attached to the top.
Some of these were in place just metres from a children’s play area.
The mystery mound is believed to be owned by Cambro Contractors Limited, formerly both Cambro Contractors Ltd and Cambro Waste Products Limited, based in Watford, but there are no records available on the Land Registry.
The two companies have been referred to in documentation relating to the former tip as acting as one agency, Cambro.
There appear to be few details online about what the company does now, apart from that it is listed as dormant, its address and the names of its two directors and secretary.
Cambro, based at CP House in Watford, did not respond when approached for comment.
Meanwhile, the rugby club site is now listed on the Land Registry as being owned by M.W. Trustees Limited, part of wealth management firm Mattioli Wood PLC, based in Leicester. It is in the hands of receivers.
The Opencast Executive, a Government organisation administering open mine sites, applied to mine 2.3 million tonnes of coal from three portions of land in the area in 1986.
Part of the location it applied for – the mound – was turned down
The sites were known as Smotherfly A, B and C – with A being ruled out.
The Secretary of State for the Environment had said that ‘so little is known about the waste deposited on site and that the hazards of disturbing dioxin-contaminated waste are so great that planning permission should not be forthcoming’.
The campaigner, who lives close to the site, has told the Local Democracy Reporting Service of some of the thousands of tonnes of dangerous toxins that were dumped on the land in the 70s.
Derbyshire County Council was responsible for issuing waste disposal licenses at that time – before the Environment Agency was created.
It provided Cambro Contractors Ltd with licenses for two adjoining sites in the Smotherfly A location – one, the mound, called LS01, off Norman Road and Cockshutt Lane, and the other called LS41, off Lower Somercotes Road – the home of the rugby club.
The license for LS01 contains a list of substances approved to be dumped and in what quantities per day – which show that 732 tonnes of waste could be deposited every day.
However, it was alleged by at least one resident at the time, and again by the campaigner, that waste was frequently being dumped at night – outside of the regulated hours and without the presence of security staff.
What substances were dumped in the tip is largely unknown – an assertion made by residents, campaigners, the borough and county councils and central government.
Residents and the campaigner claim that at times, particularly in 1975, 50 to 100 lorries full of waste would often be seen queuing up Norman Road late at night.
The tip’s license with the council was for daytime dumping only.
In recent official documents, the county council said that it was aware that waste was being dumped on the site before and after a license had been issued.
Residents allege that ‘industrial special waste and liquids and sludges’ had been dumped through the 60s, way before planning permission and a license were granted.
In its historic meeting minutes, the county council says that its staff also witnessed ‘a fair amount of tarry substances’ being tipped into the landfill in 1977, with no clay lining to prevent chemicals leaching into the surrounding area.
This is despite previous assurances to the Derby Evening Telegraph at the time.
Cambro had told the Telegraph, in 1976, that the tip was safe because there was a 20-foot deep layer of clay which prevented materials from leaching. It was also to be capped with further clay and another 20 feet of “overburden”.
Locals have never officially been told what waste was being deposited.
However, a range of potentially harmful substances were listed on the approved license from the county council – seen by the LDRS.
It includes 90 tonnes of “slags” – remnants of metals left over after the desired material has been extracted from its raw ore – and 60 tonnes of toxic metal compounds, including vanadium.
Scientists say that inhaling large amounts of vanadium can result in lung problems, such as bronchitis or pneumonia. It has been shown that workers exposed to vanadium peroxide are more susceptible to eye, nose and throat irritation.
Alongside this, other compounds approved for dumping included 50 tonnes of tar; pitch, bitumen and asphalt; seven tonnes of paint waste; 80 tonnes of industrial effluent treatment cake; 80 tonnes of oil-contaminated waste; 15 tonnes of mercury-contaminated compounds; 15 tonnes of aromatic hydrocarbons; and seven tonnes of contaminated waste, described as 'cleaning-up material in drums from oil refineries and general rubbish from cleaning-up operations at tar refineries'.
Official reports from the 90s said many substances found on the site are known to be carcinogenic and at least partially radioactive.
Some particularly harmful materials were logged on an “unofficial tip list”, seen by the Local Democracy Reporting Service, by those carrying out the night-time dumping.
This is said to contain a host of dangerous dioxins, highly toxic compounds produced as a by-product in some manufacturing processes, including herbicide production and paper bleaching. They are seen as “serious and persistent environmental pollutants”.
It also included a host of radioactive materials such as cobalt, caesium-137, caesium-133, strontium and uranium.
LS01, run by Cambro Contractors Ltd, operated from 1973 until 1980 – with an estimated 625,000 tonnes of waste dumped during its lifespan, including produce tipped before and after the license was issued.
At a county council planning committee meeting in September 1976, councillor Joe Heathcote had said: “Each time an application is made (to extend the time-limit for the Somercotes waste dump) it leads to misery for the people who live in this area.
“Nobody knows the health hazard that could arise.”
Amber Valley councillor John Roberts said at the time that “firms have sent chemicals hundreds of miles from all over Britain to be dumped at Somercotes over the past three or four years.
“There must be some horrifying concoctions in there.”
Joan Wright, a concerned resident, spoke to the Telegraph in 1976 to say: “If you throw a stone into the tip it bubbles and the smell is vile.”
She said that claims that the tip was well away from houses was “rubbish”, saying: “There is only our lawn and 20 yards of field between our house and the tip.”
LS41 was licensed for the dumping of 250 tonnes of non-hazardous industrial waste, an “unlimited amount of waste from the construction industry,” and 75 tonnes of scrap rubber, including tyres.
In 2014, there were plans to build 200 homes on the site, but the location is now being marketed for sale as 16.85 acres of employment land for £4.2 million.
This site was also run by Cambro and was operated from 1979 for ‘approximately six-12 months’.
The campaigner alleges it also took an estimated 625,000 tonnes of waste dumped.
Documents from Amber Valley Borough Council during its local plan preparations in 2017 say that the LS01 site contained ‘considerable amounts of toxic waste’.
Meanwhile, the council declared the rugby club site ‘non-viable’ for building homes.
It wrote: “The land immediately to the north of the site was previously used for disposal of hazardous waste both prior to, and after the grant of a Licence in 1978 (ref. LS01) for this activity.
“Other land to the north-east of the site (known as Somercotes LOM) was similarly used, although this took place prior to the Control of Pollution Act 1974 and there are no records available in respect of the waste that was deposited on that land.”
The campaigner claims that over the past few decades, these toxic materials may have seeped through their metal containers – which will have rusted and degraded over time – and reacted with each other in unpredictable ways.
He believes these toxic and potentially deadly chemicals have seeped further into several uncapped mine shafts and spread throughout the area’s soil and watercourses.
The Coal Authority lists around a dozen mine entries on the site, along with labelling it a “development high risk area”.
These watercourses flow directly into the River Amber – which flows through the middle of the site, and into the River Erewash.
Official IMWA documents from 1994 said that the River Erewash is “already being polluted from uncontrollable surface water run off” from the former Midland Acid Co Ltd acid and tar works at Pye Bridge, just to the east of Smotherfly A.
Toxic waste from the Pye Bridge acid and tar works was removed and buried on the site in concrete coffins 180ft underground in a remediation process that finished in 2000, returning the site to a woodland nature reserve.
TIMELINE OF THE POISON WASTE DUMPING:
1960s – Waste begins to be dumped at the Somercotes site, later to be known as the tips LS01 and LS41.
1968 – Explosion at Coalite chemical works in Bolsover leaves 79 with cysts known as chloracne
1973 – Derbyshire County Council grants planning permission to Cambro Contractors Ltd for deposit of industrial waste at Somercotes site
1974 – Control of Pollution Act brought into law
1975 – 50-100 lorries regularly seen queuing at night-time on Norman Road to tip waste
1976 – Waste from 1968 Coalite explosion was dumped in secret location, the Derby Telegraph reported.
1978 – Derbyshire County Council grants waste disposal license LS01 (Somercotes) for 732 tonnes a day
1979 – Derbyshire County Council grants waste disposal license LS41 (the rugby club) for non-hazardous waste
1979 Coalite buys Cambro Waste Products Ltd
1980 – LS01 closes
1981 – New Scientist article says Coalite had used Cambro to transport 1968 toxic explosion remains
1986 – LS41 closes
1986 – Application filed by Opencast Executive to mine 2.3 million tonnes of coal from Smotherfly A, B and C, near the LSO1 and LS41 tips.
1989 – The Secretary of State for the Environment declines Smotherfly A due to “dioxin contaminated waste” and other unknown waste
September 2014 – 200 houses at Amber Valley Rugby Club site refused for Carter Construction (Derby) Limited by Amber Valley Borough Council due to lack of information on ground conditions and contamination
July 2017 – Planning Inspectorate dismisses appeal into 200 homes at Amber Valley Rugby Club site for Carter Construction (Derby) Limited
June 2018 – Plans for 200 houses approved at Nether Farm, Somercotes, close to former landfills, for Bernard Swain
October 2018 – Fundraising for judicial review into Nether Farm starts by local campaigners.
June 2019 – Bernard Swain submits new version of 200-home Nether Farm plans – these plans reveal that contractors should not touch or breathe in the soil on the site
August 2019 – Campaigner says that residents near the site have contracted forms of cancer
September 2019 – Amber Valley Borough Council rejects plans for 99 homes from Paul Newman New Homes due to vicinity to 'toxic tip'
- If you have more information about the former waste tip known as LS01, email firstname.lastname@example.org.