UK’s worst polluter faces further shame as villagers are evacuated

A long-term investigation by ICI into the effects of its historical use of quarries near Runcorn, Cheshire for chemical dumping has confirmed that some nearby homes do test positive for hexachlorobutadience (HCBD).

Thus far, 16 households in the village of Weston, Cheshire have been evacuated, with ICI paying the costs of temporary accommodation. HCBD is believed to cause kidney and liver cancer in humans and there are fears that it may promote foetal abnormalities.

ICI subsidiary Chlor Chemicals has had a factory – producing chlorine and related chemicals – close to Weston for 80 years. The company’s practice of dumping chemicals in a local quarry ended 25 years ago, but environmental officials were concerned that the chemicals could have contaminated groundwater or seeped into house foundations. “The National Rivers Authority – our predecessor – played a part in encouraging ICI to undertake an investigation,” an Environment Agency spokesperson told edie.

Responding to pressure from the National Rivers Authority, ICI created Project Pathway in 1993. The project’s aim is “to investigate the possible effects of historical industrial activity on and around its Runcorn site,” says ICI. In addition to the indoor air monitoring taking place in Weston, Project Pathway also includes borehole drilling to assess “whether there has been any movement of chemicals disposed of at this location over a period of 50 years”.

“Our priority is assessing any impact on neighbours,” Adam Roscoe of Chlor Chemicals told edie. Indoor air quality monitoring in nearby homes will be repeated three or four times this year to check for any seasonal variations.

Meanwhile, the borehole side of the project should furnish results by mid-year. “The study’s scientific data is coming from the boreholes,” says Roscoe.

The ICI Group is one of the world’s largest coatings and specialty chemicals companies. It has been ‘named and shamed’ by the Environment Agency for England and Wales as the UK’s worst industrial polluter. ICI has more than 200 manufacturing facilities in over 55 countries.

Although the Environment Agency states that it is “satisfied that the company is taking the appropriate measures to assess the impacts of chemical dumping at Weston Quarries”, it also points out that “at present, the Environment Agency does not have a remit to regulate or enforce action to be taken to clean up contaminated land. New legislation will come into force later this year which will give the Agency and local authorities powers to regulate contaminated sites.”

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