Landfill fumes ‘could kill’ poorly toddler, mother fears

Hospital doctor and Public Health England voice concern about noxious emissions from Walleys Quarry in Staffordshire

<p>Rebecca Currie and her son Matthew with brother Denzel</p>

Rebecca Currie and her son Matthew with brother Denzel

The mother of a five-year-old boy living near a landfill has said she is scared for his life after a hospital doctor said his breathing difficulties were being made worse by fumes from the site.

Rebecca Currie believes the smell from Walleys Quarry, in North Staffordshire, are putting her son Matthew at risk of a severe attack that could stop him breathing or bring on a seizure.

A consultant paediatric specialist at the nearby Royal Stoke University Hospital, Dr Martin Samuels has examined Matthew and said he believes the fumes from the landfill could be the cause of the boy’s deteriorating health. He doubled Matthew’s medication after a consultation at the Royal Stoke Hospital earlier this month.

Public Health England told The Independent it is concerned over reports of nearby residents experiencing health issues as a result of hydrogen sulphide levels near the landfill site in Silverdale, Newcastle-Under-Lyme.

The quarry has been at the centre of more than 10,000 complaints from residents to the Environment Agency since the start of the year. Air quality monitoring by the EA has recorded levels of hydrogen sulphide far in excess of the World Health Organisation’s limits.

The owners of the landfill site, Red Industries, was served with an enforcement notice by the Environment Agency earlier this year after being found in breach of its licence. It was given until the end of April to cap off parts of the site to try and prevent fumes.

For Rebecca Currie, aged 41, it has not helped. She told The Independent the smells since the end of April have been “disgusting” and her son Matthew, who has cerebral palsy and epilepsy after being born prematurely, has a chronic lung condition bronchitis and needed oxygen until he was two.

She said: “He was very poorly when he was first born but his last hospital admission was in December 2019. He was well for over 12 months and then the last four months, it’s become chronic again.

“I’ve had to get an ambulance out to him a few times. It gets so bad to the extent that when he’s coughing, he is actually vomiting as well.”

Describing what the smell is like she said it was a “disgusting rotten egg” smell: “The house is literally full of the gasses.”

She has two air purifiers, donated by a local charity, running constantly in her two children’s bedrooms with a third in the living room, given to the family by a local campaigner. But Ms Currie says it still isn’t enough.

“People say it’s just a smell but it’s every night. I'm scared for Matthew, he has an illness that could kill him,” she said.

“I am scared about my son and all I want is the whole site capped off and gone.”

She relies on her mother living nearby who is Matthew’s main carer so moving home is not a realistic option.

In the summary of his consultation with Matthew, Dr Martin Samuels, consultant paediatrician, said Mathew had a been well for a long period adding “but in the last couple of months his chest has been particularly bad from the sulphurous fumes emanating from a local landfill site”.

“Matthew seems to be clearly suffering from the environmental fumes he is subjected to on a regular basis given they live so close to the landfill,” he added.

The doctor said he had recommended increasing the dose of medication to help Matthew breath and to try and help him sleep at night.

Local MP Aaron Bell, who has been campaigning on behalf of residents to tackle the smells, told The Independent: “I have spoken with local GPs who have confirmed the serious negative effects of the landfill on residents’ health, both physical and mental.

“As this saga drags on these effects are becoming more and more serious and the Environment Agency urgently need to take tougher enforcement action against the operator to put a stop to the noxious emissions from the site.”

Public Health England said it was providing expert analysis to the Environment Agency to “quantify the impact on the health and wellbeing of residents”.

A spokesperson said: “Public Health England appreciates the ongoing situation concerning strong odours in areas around Walleys Quarry Landfill must be very distressing for residents.

“Based on the current data up to the end of March, we would stress that any risk to long-term physical health is likely to be small, however we cannot completely exclude a risk to health from pollutants in the area. Short-term health effects may be experienced such as irritation to the eyes, nose and throat. Individuals with pre-existing respiratory conditions may be more susceptible to these effects.

“We understand that people are experiencing symptoms such as nausea, headaches and dizziness, along with problems sleeping and impacts to mental wellbeing, contributing to stress and anxiety. These factors are of concern to us.”

There are now four air quality monitors in the area to collect data around the clock with the Environment Agency having made at least 17 site inspections and 49 odour assessments since January to 12 May.

A spokesperson for the agency said: “We are sorry the community are continuing to live with the distress that odour causes and we are challenging Walleys Quarry Ltd every step of the way to take action on the odour levels produced from their operations and the impact these are having on local people.

“We will continue to hold the site operators to account to improve its management of landfill gas from the site and do everything within our power to bring the site back into compliance with its permits as quickly as possible.”

A spokesman for Red Industries said: “We are sorry to learn of Matthew's health problems and understand this will be of great concern to his family.

“The Environment Agency concluded that Walley's Quarry met all the necessary conditions to reopen. The facility continues to be assessed and monitored on a daily, weekly and monthly basis by the regulator along with independent scientific experts.

“The capping programme which was agreed with the regulator has been completed. Capping, gas management and engineering works will continue throughout the operational life and the restoration phase of the site. At that point the area will be returned to a green field."

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