Saturday is burning day!
Have you ever noticed the black columns of smoke rising to the sky in rural England on a Saturday evening?
Saturday is burning day for waste that isn’t legal to burn: bailing plastic, tyres, feed and fertiliser bags, plastic gloves, udder wipes, worming tubes…who knows what else.
The local council offices, the Environment Agency and DEFRA can’t be reached on Saturday evening, so nobody can report the illegal fire while it’s burning.
And in winter, plastic waste can be burned under the cover of darkness without having to stay up late…
… just as happened last night on a farm in the valley.
I smelled the acrid plastic fumes as soon as I stepped into our orchard before dinner, a stink that brought me right back to my childhood, when my dad burned the plastic wrapping of the blocks he built our house with.
That was in the early 1970s, and while the smell should have told us that all is not well with the practice then, detailed knowledge about the toxins released from low temperature open fires are now more common knowledge than when I was a kid.
Not that I want to excuse what went on on our building site – not at all! It was common practice then and it was wrong, even then. I am saying that we should learn something and change or behaviour accordingly.
Today, someone would have to try very hard to remain ignorant of the fact that burning plastic releases harmful chemicals into the air, soil and water.
Just one example of information freely available on the internet: Alexander Cogut (2016) has published a comprehensive overview over global open burning of rubbish, and at that time, approximately 41% of global trash was ‘disposed of’ in that way.
Do we really want to tolerate this on English soil? In 2021?
Cogut’s report highlights that the open burning of waste is carried out at relatively low temperatures and for that reason, releases a variety of pollutants. The main issues are:
- greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide and methane
- particulate matter, which is air pollution that can cause severe cases of respiratory disease and coronary disease
- persistent organic pollutants, including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, dioxins and furans, all of which are known to cause cancer (carcinogens) and have been associated with causing other diseases.
Toxins are known to be particularly harmful to unborn fetuses, infants and children and can cause severe developmental damage in the young – in addition, air, soil and water pollution also damages ecosystems and wildlife.
Even if ignorance persists, ignorance is no defence in front of the law:
The Waste Management (England and Wales) Regulations 2006 classify agricultural wastes as ‘controlled wastes’ and it is prohibited to dispose of it by burning or burying. That includes, among other materials, plastic, foil, containers and even cardboard. Farmers have a legal duty to send waste off their farm, to be recycled, incinerated or go to landfill. Moreover, waste can only be transferred to authorised persons and a Waste Transfer note must be provided to show lawful disposal.
That’s a far cry from what happened last night!
Perhaps burning on site is permitted again since the UK left the EU???
Nope! Just checked gov.uk – as of today, 17 Jan 2021 there are no known changes to EU legislation related to the Waste Management (England and Wales) Regulations 2006.
I am writing here about general principles, not a single incident near where I live – that was just a trigger to get this off my chest!
Saturday is burning day all over rural England!
Update: I wonder how much plastic is used to light wood burners every day ????
Four and a half years after the referendum on Britain’s EU membership resulted in the drive to leave the EU, it is rather telling that the last days of negotiations around a deal with the EU are labelled ‘final throwing of dice” in this country.
Four and a half years of wasting chances and low probability for success have gone because the intentions of main players were never aligned.
It is sad and frustrating in equal measure that it has come to this.
If we learn something from the year 2020, it should include this: when we focus on what we all have in common, instead on what sets us apart, we can achieve a lot.
What hope for cooperation borne out of empathy and solidarity is there for the even bigger challenges ahead?
I’m thinking of climate change, sustainable development, poverty, inequality, to name a few.
Perhaps we need to start at an individual scale, as hoping for the system that breaks, us to fix us, is futile.
Like you, I am European and I live in the UK. By accident of birth and shifting borders, I carry a German passport.
I reflect on history, the bad bits (lots of human suffering at the level of individual and collectively) and the good bits (when society thrived through cooperation and solidarity).
I conclude that being part of a bigger whole is infinitely more desirable than striving to be great and powerful alone, to be the biggest of all.
In the belief that history is a great teacher and the foundation upon which we develop foresight and wisdom,
* Johnson, plus D Cummings, J Rees-Mogg, D David, N Farage et al.
12 weeks in lockdown and I’m looking for the silver lining…
What are we learning?
About the value of life?
About the value of health and looking after mind, body and spirit?
About the value of relationships and society?
About receiving and gratitude?
About giving, kindness and generosity?
About our relationship with nature, our being part of nature?
About what we think need and what we think we want, or do we, really?
About status and money and power and priorities and values and meaning and motivation and what we want our taxes spent on in future.
Would you encourage your children onto a playground you know is heavily contaminated with arsenic?
Most probably not!
But the public is encouraged to use the heavily arsenic contaminated grounds of Devon Great Consols mine near Plymouth (UK) for recreation: walking, riding, biking, picnicking, exploring…
You think that’s crazy? You may be in a minority!
In 2007, the Tamar Valley AONB were successful in attracting £7 million investment from the Heritage Lottery Fund, Europe, County Councils and others for the Mining Heritage Project. Works commenced with consultancy surveys and finished with the opening of 25 km of trails that allow the public to access some of the most contaminated land in the country.
Some of this money was spent on remediation and mitigation: shafts were fenced off and signs were installed (not barriers) that intended to prevent access into some of the most polluted parts of the site.
Today, a lovely video praises this site for its family-friendly atmosphere and shows people jogging and biking on highly polluted ground – oblivious of the dangers they are in.
What’s more: the land owner permits a mountain bike club to use one of the most contaminated mining waste heaps for downhill practice and competitions.
Time to get real:
Arsenic is a deadly poison: the dose necessary to kill a person is somewhere between 100 mg and 300 mg, or one tenth to roughly one third of one gram of inorganic arsenic.
Chronic poisoning, the type people around the world are exposed to as a result of contaminated water supplies and occupational exposure, leads to serious consequences, including cancers of many organs, skin diseases, abdominal pain and diarrhoea, confusion and memory loss, neonatal morbidity and mortality, lung diseases and disruption of endocrine and haematological systems (Ratnaike, 2003).
Is anybody doing something about this?
I’ve tried for over a decade for this contamination to be taken seriously with respect to environmental health. Now, we’ve published work relating to human health.
Here is what we found:
- across the site, the enrichment with arsenic is 600 fold relative to the soil concentrations in the Tamar river catchment (based on median)
- concentrations ranged from around 140 to 75000 microgram per gram (µg/g) of soil or dust (that’s 7.5% by weight)
- health-based soil guidelines values developed by the Environment Agency of England and Wales are 179 µg/g for park-type soil and 640 µg/g for commercial land
- ingestion simulation with gastro-intestinal fluids testing the biologically accessible concentration in soils showed that most samples exceeded the park-type soil level
- of 98 measurements taken on publicly accessible trails and places on site, only one (1) showed arsenic concentrations suitable for parkland and only 13 were suitable for commercial activities
- particles in all air samples taken along trails and mountain bike tracks exceeded the current European Directive annual average target value of 6 nanogram arsenic per meter cubed (ng/m3), in one case by more than 10 times
- lung fluid simulation showed that target values for arsenic were exceeded in many samples, indicating that the biologically accessible concentrations were too high
- the calculated Index Dose of Minimal Risk from ingestion and inhalation of arsenic is 0.302 microgram per kilogram of body weight per day (µg/kg bw /day) and it is estimated that children ingest around 100 mg soil
- a child of 1-2 years old and weighing 9.8 kg visiting the sites for 6 hours may ingest 25 mg of soil containing on average 13000 µg/g arsenic would be exposed to more than 10 times (33 µg/kg bw /day) the Index Dose of Minimal Risk
- the equivalent exposure is more than 7 times (2.3 µg/kg bw /day) the Index Dose of Minimal Risk
What does this mean?
- arsenic concentrations at Devon Great Consols are sufficiently high to be a public health concern
- frequent visits, or indeed working on site, could significantly increase one’s risk of chronic arsenic poisoning
- activities that encourage airborne dust, such as mountain biking, riding and walking in dry conditions increase the risk of inhalation
- deviating from permissive paths onto mine waste material that is not fenced off increases the risk to health
- mitigation measures are urgently needed to protect the public and employees
What can be done?
In my own opinion, and not necessarily reflecting the opinions of my co-authors of the scientific paper, the site should be instantly closed the general public. However, more pragmatically, and as a minimum, leisure pursuits should be minimised to less contaminated trails, areas fenced off that are highly contaminated and comprehensive information signage installed. Furthermore, the contaminated car parking area and timber storage yard to the north of the site must be closed to protect workers and visitors. The public must be excluded from the area of highly contaminated remains of arsenic processing and refining installation (calciners and labyrinth). Mountain biking activities must be disallowed on mining waste.
More mid-term, and in the interest of re-opening the site, contaminated trails could be remediated by removing surface layers and replacing them with inert materials.
In addition, covering the mine waste to prevent water ingress, erosion and dispersal of contaminated material would be a long-term target to protect the site and surrounding farmland and dwellings. Large-scale engineering solutions are expensive, disruptive and not sympathetic to the mining heritage. Therefore, I would suggest a phyto-stabilisation approach through re-vegetation.
I can only hope that someone out there cares enough to make it happen!
If you want a little bit more of the back story – go to my post ‘Challenging Habitat‘ and follow the links in the introductory paragraph.
All detail stated here has been either linked to external sources or is referenced in the published scientific article:
Braungardt C, Chen X, Chester-Sterne D, Quinn JGA, Turner A (2020). Arsenic concentrations, distributions and bioaccessibilities at a UNESCO World Heritage Site (Devon Great Consols, Cornwall and West Devon Mining Landscape). Environmental Pollution 264.
This work is accessible free of charge until 5th July 2020 from the publisher at: https://authors.elsevier.com/a/1b18AzLNSVgDK
After that date, please contact me directly for an electronic copy at email@example.com
View over Anna Maria waste heap from one of the trails at Devon Great Consols mine. Photo: C Braungardt, 2018.
Lilac. Every year I welcome its flowers, not because I particularly like it – I don’t, in spite of their sweet scent – but because it reminds me of my friend Petra’s birthday in mid-May.
Only it is not mid-May just yet and I wonder whether I am starting to sound like a sentimental old lady saying “…when I was young, the lilac came out just for Petra’s birthday…”
Are the seasons shifting due to climate warming or can I ‘blame’ it on longitude (I used to live 49.79° N, 9.95° E and and have moved nearly west), as the continental climate near the post-BREXIT center of the EU may have something to do with the flowering time of plants?
In any case, the early ‘warning’ gives me three extra weeks to get the card posted 👍
Do we care?
Sometime between 7 and 8 am this morning I heard something on the Today programme (BBC Radio 4) that stunned me.
It was a piece about the government’s thoughts regarding a point-based immigration system, which favours highly qualified individuals who are going to contribute to the high tech economy the government is aspiring to. It mentioned that individuals who are not highly qualified, will not be able to enter the UK in the future, including people who supply catering and care providers with a high proportion of the required work force.
None of that stunned me – it’s been on the cards since BREXIT was on the cards. No, it was the government’s statements that the lack of care workers will be compensated for by introducing ‘automation and technology’. That stunned me on two counts:
1) People who need care are apparently not valued. They are not worth a decent wage for their carers. Even after BREXIT, people who want to work as carers, and are eligible to live in the UK, are not going to be offered an income that enables them to take up those jobs.
2) The skills, personal touch and conversation carers bring into the lives of people who require care are not valued – we can replace that by ‘automation and technology’, which means that the carers themselves are not valued.
I suggest the ministers and their advisers, who came up with this, spend a week as residents in a care home, so that they can experience what carers do for the cared for. And I suggest that they spend a week in a care home that provides ‘automated care’ and lots of ‘technology’. Maybe then they will finally realise that we Europeans were not such a blight after all….
Thank you, Home Office! My application was successful and I have Permanent Residence status. For now.
Of course, I have this right while the UK is member of the EU. Therefore, the Home Office news updates keep telling me how valued we Europeans are in our contributions to the British economy and how we Europeans don’t need to do anything at the moment to ascertain our rights to remain. Quite. We are encouraged to wait and carry on contributing to the economy until BREXIT bites (or some 2 years after that).
For now, I can live with the illusion that after BREXIT I have a choice. However, my Permanent Residence was granted under existing EU laws, and whether or not in 2019 or 2021 the shiny new permit card in my possession will be worth the paper it was printed on, is something else.
my BREXIT uncertainty
I arrived in the UK in 1993 from continental Europe. I have learned here and invested a lot of my life in this country. I love living here, especially because I thought to be among people who are generally good at ‘live and let live’ while still caring – maybe people here are not perfect at this, but appear much better at it than where I come from. I’ve got a job I like and that allows me to give something back to society through education and research. I’ve got family and friends here.
I thought I could continue to shape my life without worrying about whether or not I have a right to be here. That right was a given and as I’ve always felt more European than anything else (except, maybe, eine Unterfränkin, but that’s a parochial joke and irrelevant here), I could not imagine this ever to change.
But it has. My world, as it relates to living in the UK, has become uncertain by the result of a referendum that was called for the wrong reasons, the campaigns for which were at best poor and at worst misleading on all sides, the outcome of which was not thought through by those who were responsible for thinking it out.
I’ll be applying for permanent residence to keep my options open. I know that it is irrational, but at the moment, I refuse to accept that my options should be curtailed by BREXIT after living here all this time.
I am European and in the UK.