EA turns detective to track landfill polluter

Environment Agency officers are engaged in a race against time to find those responsible for the clean-up of an old landfill site on the Sunderland coast before the waste is washed into the sea.

The Halliwell Banks site, three miles south of the city, is a former quarry that was used as a waste dump between the 1930s and 1960s.

A Sunderland City Council investigation last year led to its designation as contaminated land and now the EA is trying to trace those responsible for the waste so that they can be made to foot the bill under the polluter pays principle.

The case is made more urgent as the crumbling coastline threatens to breach the landfill within the next few years, leading to the neighbouring beach being contaminated with decades of waste.

Unfortunately for the agency, records of the type of waste and who put it there are thin on the ground as the site stopped being used before waste management licensing was brought in.

The 35 hectare site is thought to contain domestic and construction waste as well as spoil from nearby coal mines.

Environment Agency contaminated land specialist Sue Goodman said: “The current information we have shows that it could take between four and five years before the coastal erosion breaches the landfill.

“Under the legislation we need to find who is responsible for the contamination and get them to take action to deal with the problem.”

Heritage coast officer Niall Benson, an officer for the Durham Heritage Coast Partnership which is working with the EA investigation, added: “It is vital that the correct solution is found to this landfill legacy, a solution that will not only remove the immediate risk, but also any long term risks to our environment.

“The coast here is a very special place and with our partners’ help we will secure safe and welcoming access for the local community and visitors alike, whilst protecting the wonderful wildlife found here.”

If the EA cannot trace those responsible for the waste, it will have to find funding for the remediation itself.

Sam Bond

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