Many residents in the Stalybridge and Dukinfield area are living with intolerably strong solvent chemical fumes in and around their homes and businesses on a daily basis as a result of a long-term leak of Toluene and Xylene from the site of a local chemical firm. The fire brigade has been called out on multiple occasions, areas sealed off, children rushed to hospital and many people reporting symptoms as a result of the ongoing toxic pollution.
The source of the potentially harmful chemical leak is the site of surfactant manufacturing company Stepan UK in Stalybridge, which accepted full responsibility for the contamination at the beginning of 2011. A solution was promptly identified which will reportedly take around two days to implement, yet the work has so far not commenced. According to Tameside Council, this prolonging of local residents’ harrowing ordeal is due to a period of corporate arm-wrestling between Stepan UK and United Utilities over the cost of the repair work, which involves a routine installation of a lining sleeve along a fifty yard stretch of sewer near to the Stepan UK site on Bridge Street. The lining will plug the ingress of toxic chemicals, which are currently being distributed over a wide area via the local sewer network – in many cases over half a mile away from the leak source.
Representatives of Tameside Council said on 13th June that a private contractor is now being appointed by Stepan UK to carry out the repair work. The council is awaiting confirmation of a start date from Stepan UK before it is able to reassure growing numbers of anxious residents with the eagerly awaited news of exactly when their ordeal will end.
In the meantime, Tameside Council agreed to issue a press release to update residents, which will also appear in the local free press. Tameside Council has also told residents that a newsletter is currently being produced to be circulated to all properties within the known radius of the leak source, prepared and funded by Stepan UK and approved by Tameside Council and United Utilities.
Since the source of the leak was established at the start of this year, following an investigation by United Utilities, Stepan UK has been making efforts to contain local concern and assure residents that they are working towards a solution. Stepan UK agreed with the other agencies involved, including United Utilities, Tameside Council and The Environment Agency, that any complainants could contact the company directly. One of the measures taken by Stepan for residents and business owners who have reported the smells in their properties has been to test the level of pollution at each reported site using specialist equipment. In some cases, residents who agreed to this testing process have reported that they were assured by Stepan UK that the results of the testing would be disclosed to them, only to find that they are still in the dark some months after the testing took place. This has naturally fueled residents’ concerns for their safety as they are left asking why Stepan UK has chosen to withhold this data.
Tameside Council told concerned residents on 13th June that it is awaiting data from the Health Protection Agency (HPA) which will indicate the level of threat posed by the ongoing pollution to the health of the many affected residents. The Council said that it had so far not felt the need to alert or evacuate residents as it had not seen any evidence to suggest that the level of the pollution posed any serious risk to health, but conceded that it could not make any guarantees to the contrary and was now not so sure. The Council said that an evacuation strategy already exists and will be put into action if deemed necessary as a result of the HPA findings.
As concern among residents and local businesses continues to grow, and some residents question whether Stepan UK is guilty of prioritising its own interests over the health and safety of the public, many affected residents and business owners are now considering a class action against the company to secure compensation for the numerous effects brought upon their lives and livelihoods by the prolonged situation.
New reports of instances are still emerging and the contamination continues.