As a result of an investigation by the Environment Agency, Newcastle City Council and Contract Heat and Power, operators of a combined heat and power (CHP) plant in Byker, are to be prosecuted for depositing 2,000 tonnes of toxic ash on parks, public bridleways and allotments.

According to the Environment Agency, the offences allegedly took place over a number of years, despite the licence for the incinerator stipulating that the ash should be deposited in a landfill site, and only came to light when local people raised concerns. As a result of investigations, the Newcastle and North Tyneside Health Authority, in conjunction with the City Council, advised that children under two years of age should not play on the allotments, and people should not eat eggs or poultry from them.

“As an environmental regulator, the Agency has a duty to protect the environment for this and future generations,” said an Agency spokesperson. “If the Agency believes that environmental legislation has been breached, a number of courses of action can be taken. The most serious of these is to bring a prosecution, and the Agency believes this to be the appropriate response in the circumstances.”

“This has been a long and time-consuming investigation,” the Agency spokesperson added. “The issue has raised strong feelings among the local community. The decision to take court action is evidence of how seriously the Agency views this matter.”

Newcastle City Council is being charged with 15 offences concerning the illegal deposit of waste on land, disposal of waste in a manner likely to pollute the environment or cause harm to human health, and duty of care. Cambridge-based Contract Heat and Power are facing four charges concerning duty of care offences and breaches of authorisation.

According to the Agency spokesperson, all the sites known to have received the toxic ash have been remediated.

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