At the start of 2021 ENDS Report (15 and 18 January 2021) ran articles on the issue of the presence of old hazardous waste landfills in England and Wales, based on analysis of Environment Agency data. The results make for sobering reading. According to the data, there are over 21,000 old landfills across England and Wales, of which around 1,287 are thought to contain hazardous waste. The waste is in many cases not categorised adequately, or indeed at all: over 7,000 landfills contain unspecified “Industrial liquid sludge” and at over 400 the waste content is simply unknown. Of course, site dating back to the 1950s or 1960s, prior to the Deposit of Poisonous Waste Act 1972, even if ostensibly comprising domestic or inert waste, may well also contain hazardous chemicals or substances. The data itself held by the Environment Agency is not entirely reliable, dating back to a Department of Environment project which has not been updated, or refined to address changing approaches to what is hazardous waste.
Mapping of the sites by ENDS shows that current land uses over the landfills varies widely, from green space and parkland, through sports pitches, race tracks and commercial premises, to schools, care homes and housing. About 750 are within 500m of water bodies. About 2,100 are located on the coast or in flood risk zones, making them potentially vulnerable to flooding and coastal erosion. The older sites will of course not be lined to modern standards, or at all. They are likely in some cases to contain substances which are now banned such as PCBs, PFOS and PFOA.
Absent any funding to investigate, let alone clean up sites, they remain a serious possible risk to public health and the environment, and a contingent liability for the landowner.
Text references: 1-07, 1-10, 9-01, 9-02