Health fears near Welsh landfill site

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The Independent Online

The smell and dust of the Nant-y-Gwyddon landfill site in the Rhondda valley, south Wales, had filled Natalie Medlicott's life long before her six-year-old daughter was born with a rare disorder of the oesophagus.

Her child, Harriet, needed an emergency operation straight after birth and then had surgery several times again. Her most recent operation was last week.

Mrs Medlicott links the landfill site with her daughter's condition."When Harriet was born we were told it was a very, very rare condition, but within two years we learnt that another child with the same problem had been born here.

"If it is so rare then why is there another child with the problem some five minutes walk away from our home?"

Susan and David Scourfield, who also live near the landfill site, have similar fears. They were shocked when scans during Mrs Scourfield's two pregnancies showed the foetuses had devastating abnormalities. They were told, after a scan in the 20th week of the first pregnancy, in 1996, that the baby would not survive.

The baby in the second pregnancy also had severe abnormalities showing in the 18th week, including spina bifida and displaced stomach organs. "The second time I could not believe it. I was totally stunned," said Mrs Scourfield.

The couple got no explanation. "Tests said there was nothing genetically wrong, but in the waiting room there were three girls with the same problems – a cluster of us together," said Mrs Scourfield. "None of us had answers. I did ask if it could be linked to the tip. They said that until they knew what was up there, they could never say, but one doctor has said that if I want another healthy child I should move away."

Garrod Owen, a spokesman for Rhondda Against Nant-y-Gwyddon Tip, said the community, which is demanding a public inquiry, believed many of the problems began when a factory began dumping calcium sulphate at the tip. "The problem is that we just do not know what is buried there," he said.

David Paurchon, an environmental health specialist who is investigating for the Welsh Assembly, said low levels of metals and organic chemicals able to affect hormones and foetuses were probably in the landfill but it was not possible yet to demonstrate cause and effect. "The local population ... have identified clusters of congenital anomalies," he said. "Preliminary statistics show there is cause for concern."