Pollution watchdog plans legal action: Record level of dioxins in river near Coalite plant

A SMALL river in Derbyshire has the world's highest levels of dioxins, 27 times greater than the next most polluted watercourse.

The National Rivers Authority, the water pollution watchdog, is pinning the blame for the highly toxic and persistent contamination in the river Doe Lea on the nearby Coalite plant at Bolsover. Yesterday it said it was planning legal action against the company.

Laboratory tests on animals have shown that dioxins can cause skin and liver damage, tumours, and affect the immune system and fertility - all at extremely low concentrations. Once in the environment they break down very slowly.

The dioxin pollution, alleged to be from the Coalite plant which makes a range of chemicals from coal tar, is thought to extend at least 13 miles downstream into the river Rother and then on into the Don.

The rivers authority said there were no drinking water intakes downstream of the contamination, so there should be no threat to human health. But the high dioxin levels jeopardise the chances of rivers that have been been polluted for decades by industry and sewage ever making a reasonable recovery.

The dioxins are also likely to flow eventually down the Ouse and the Humber into the sea, albeit at much lower concentrations. They may already be reaching the North Sea.

The authority commissioned the Water Research Centre, of Swindon, Wiltshire, to test the effects of the contamination on carp. Scientists found that the livers of the fish kept in tanks with polluted sediment from the Doe Lea became enlarged after several months.

Upstream of Coalite Chemicals' outfall into the Doe Lea, where the river is about 12 feet wide, dioxin levels in the sediments are at two parts per million (ppm). Just below it the authority says they are 10,000 times higher, at 20,269 ppm.

A survey commissioned by the authority found the world's next worst contaminated watercourse was a Norwegian fjord, where a magnesium processing plant was to blame for levels of 749 ppm. In Britain the second highest level was 16 ppm in the River Alt in Lancashire.

Thirteen miles downstream of Coalite's outfall, in the Don in Rotherham, dioxin levels are still at 300 ppm. Ironically, the rivers authority and the pollution inspectorate believe the cause of the Doe Lea contamination is an anti-air pollution system in the chemical wastes incinerator at the Coalite Chemicals plant. A wet scrubber, which forced water through the incinerator exhaust gases, was meant to reduce the formation of dioxins and remove pollutants. Although this water was then treated, some of the chemicals appear to have flowed down a discharge pipe into the river. The incinerator has been closed for more than two years.

Gerard Morris, the authority's regional quality manager, said: 'Even in such tiny quantities, dioxins are powerfully polluting and the NRA is in the process of taking legal action against Coalite Chemicals to try to get the problem dealt with properly.'

But the best environmental option may be to leave the dioxin in the river. If the contaminated sediments were dredged out there would be serious problems in disposing of them safely, and dioxins might be spread in the process.

The authority wants to establish that Coalite is liable and make it pay for the costs of its investigation and survey work, which run to around pounds 100,000. Ken Shelton, the firm's environmental manager, said the contamination was 'a fairly insignificant environmental problem'.

Of 210 different types of dioxin, only 17 were harmful to life and the vast majority of the dioxins in the sediments were non-harmful.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager - South East & East Anglia

£60500 - £65500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This global leading software co...

Recruitment Genius: Junior IT Technician

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Do you want the opportunity to ...

Recruitment Genius: Home Care Support Worker

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Home Care Support Workers needed in the Hastin...

Recruitment Genius: Home Care Support Worker - Car / Bike / Moped Drivers

£7 - £11 per hour: Recruitment Genius: NEW branch opening soon in Worthing fol...

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent