Help and information for Tameside residents suffering chemical pollution from Stepan UK
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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.

Stepan UK Chemical Leak

Stepan UK in Stalybridge - accepted responsibility for the toxic leak over four months ago

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.

Residents and business owners in Tameside, who have been suffering the ill effects of the ongoing toxic chemical leak from Stepan UK for many years, are increasingly amazed at Tameside Council’s failure to take any action against Stepan UK, who admitted responsibility at the beginning of 2011, according to TMBC and United Utilities.

A number of residents now believe there are grounds to suspect that an unhealthy relationship/arrangement between Stepan UK and the local authority lies behind Tameside Council’s unbelieveable failure to act in the interest of residents.

Tameside Council is now proactively and publicly defending Stepan UK and apparently seeking to blame United Utilities, despite giving residents a very different view behind closed doors.

Below are just some of the facts that illustrate serious cause for concern surrounding Tameside Council’s conduct:

Questionable Conduct from John Gledhill

(Tameside Council’s Environmental Services Manager)

On 31st May, Tameside Council’s Environmental Services Manager, John Gledhill, wrote to Councillor John Taylor about the chemical leak, stating that: “the frequency of the events over the last 6 months or so has increased significantly and United Utilities undertook some investigations to find out why this might be so. Their investigations lead us to Stepan who have fully accepted responsibility”.

On 13th June, John Gledhill met with concerned residents and described Stepan UK’s attempts to deflect responsibility for the matter as “disingenuous”. Mr Gledhill also told residents during the same meeting (which was also attended by Councillor John Taylor) that a solution to the problem had been identified months ago and would take two days to implement, but the work had not yet been carried out because of a lengthy dispute between Stepan UK and United Utilities over the cost of the sewer repair work involved.

Residents then contacted John Gledhill again three weeks later to ask why the problem was still unsolved. This time, Mr Gledhill wrote: “Stepan deny all responsibility, and I have no reason to disbelieve them ….. they (Stepan UK) have been co-operative throughout.”.

Residents then asked Mr Gledhill a number of further questions, including efforts to establish how he could possibly take this view, given Stepan UK’s previous acceptance of responsibility and the company’s conduct which Mr Geldhill had personally described as “disingenuous”.

On 4th July 2011, John Gledhill responded, writing: “I will contact you again when I can answer your queries more fully“.

On 6th July 2011, after being asked when a response could be expected, Mr Gledhill wrote: “I am going to wait until after tomorrow” (when a meeting about the issue was due).

On 8th July 2011, John Gledhill wrote: “it is still my intention to reply to you some time today”.

On 8th July, Mr Gledhill later wrote: “I have drafted a response ….. my Head of Service Ian Saxon has asked to see the draft before it is sent out.”

MR GLEDHILL HAS NEVER ANSWERED THE QUESTIONS. WHY?

Questionable Conduct from Councillor John Taylor

(Tameside Council’s Deputy Executive Leader)

Corruption at the top of Tameside Council?Earlier in June, Councillor John Taylor advised at least one of the affected local businesses to take legal action against Stepan UK, suggesting that the business owner should “sue the ******s”.

However, in a Tameside Reporter article, John Taylor is then reported as saying “They (Stepan UK) aren’t responsible for the leak…..they’re acting 100 per cent responsibly and working with us”.

Another clear display of Councillor Taylor’s reluctance to serve the interests of those residents affected by the Stepan leak came on 6th July 2011. Following a relatively minor incident of pollution – a fire at a nearby recycling firm on 30th June – John Taylor became very proactive in goading local residents to take action against the firm responsible. Councillor Taylor used his elected position and Tameside Council time and resources to produce a letter telling residents all about the action he had personally taken against the company and even invited residents to seek compensation against the firm for the smell caused by the fire (he said he was claiming for the cleaning bill to get rid of the smell in his own house!!) Councillor Taylor then personally hand-delivered the letters to residents in the affected area.

On this occasion, John Taylor proved that he has the capability to be proactive in such matters, and yet did absolutely nothing of this kind in relation to the far more serious and ongoing matter of the toxic pollution leaking into local homes and businesses from Stepan UK. In fact, when it was suggested to Councillor Taylor that residents should be informed by letter of the potential dangers posed by the Stepan UK leak, he completely ignored the suggestion and the information had to be produced and circulated by local residents using their own time and money. Surely Councillor John Taylor’s failure to be as proactive in the far more serious matter is not just down to the fact that he wasn’t personally affected this time?

COUNCILLOR TAYLOR HAS BADLY NEGLECTED THE INTERESTS OF THOSE WHO ELECTED HIM WHILST DEFENDING STEPAN UK. WHY?

 

Another day, yet another different story from Tameside Council regarding the toxic chemical pollution from Stepan UK in Stalybridge.

Despite issuing a press release on 20th June 2011, boldly titled “Chemical odour resolved” and declaring that “Works have now been carried out to resolve the chemical odour problem in Dukinfield and Stalybridge.” residents are now told, over two weeks later, that the work has NOT yet taken place.

Tameside Council letter (sent to affected residents), 8th July 2011

Title: “Chemical Odours in Sewers”

Tameside Council Stepan UK LeakI write further to my letter dated 17th June 2011 to update you on the current situation regarding the chemical odours that have been reported in Stalybridge and the sewer works that were expected to start on the 20th June 2011.

As you are aware, as a temporary measure and until such time as the repairs to the affected sewer had been completed a decision was taken to isolate the sewer. This action resulted in the Local Authority receiving no further complaints from residents.

Unfortunately, the repairs to the sewer have been delayed and as part of the planning process for the repair work, the isolated sewer has had to be accessed by United Utilities for some samples to be taken. This has meant them temporarily removing the stoppers, and residents may have noticed the chemical smell has returned.

The Local Authority are taking action to require United Utilities to replace the stoppers in the affected sewer, or to take other effective measures so as to prevent any further nuisance experienced by residents such as yourself. It is expected that the investigations will be completed and the sewer isolated again no later than Monday 18th July 2011,and hopefully before this date.

I apologise for the delay in respect of this matter but would like to reassure you that the Local Authority are closely monitoring the situation and working with partner agencies, we will keep you updated on progress made.

Should you wish to discuss this matter further please do not hesitate to contact me on the above telephone number.

Yours faithfully

Ian Saxon
Assistant Executive Director

Tel: 0161 342 2383
Email: ian.saxon@tameside.gov.uk

Tameside Council has declared in this latest press release that the problem is “resolved”. The many residents and business owners who continue to experience the pollution and the associated symptoms (update: even to this day – 14th July, 2011) will not appreciate this false declaration by the local authority.

Tameside Council Press Release, 20th June 2011
Title: “Chemical odour resolved”

Tameside Council Stepan UK LeakDate Released – 20/06/11

WORKS have now been carried out to resolve the chemical odour problem in Dukinfield and Stalybridge.

The affected length of sewer was blocked off last Friday (June 17) following investigations which included a camera survey and tests of gullies, drains and the sewer.

The remainder of repair works – which will involve lining the sewer – are due to be completed by this Wednesday (June 22).

The problem had been traced back to the past operations at a company in Stalybridge which manufactures detergents. A combination of factors meant the odours were seeping into the drains and being spread by the sewers along Park Road and nearby areas.

Tameside Council has worked closely with the company, Stepan UK on Bridge Street, as well as United Utilities and the Environment Agency to bring the problem to an end at the earliest possible opportunity.

Tameside Council Deputy Executive Leader Cllr John Taylor, who is a ward councillor in the area, said: “I live in the neighbourhood myself and fully appreciate how this has been a problem for residents and businesses but I am pleased to say we have made significant progress in resolving this issue and people should already have noticed the improvement.

Original article: Tameside Council Press Release, 20th June

Following a TV report on the Stepan chemical leak on the BBC’s Northwest Tonight programme, Tameside Council suddenly found the civility to contact those residents and business owners who are being affected by – and have previously complained to the council about – the pollution.

A number of residents who had contacted Tameside Council around six months earlier and had since been told nothing and left living in fear of the ongoing situation, were appalled and insulted to read the opening words: “Our records show that you contacted us recently about solvent odours in the sewers which were affecting you”. The notion that six months ago represents “recently” in an urgent matter such as this ongoing and long-term public exposure to a toxic chemical leak is extremely frightening for the numerous residents and business owners who are at the mercy of Tameside Council with regard to doing something about it and protecting their health.

Tameside Council letter (sent to affected residents and business owners known to the council), 17th June 2011

Title: “Chemical Odours in Sewers”

Tameside Council Stepan UK LeakOur records show that you contacted us recently about solvent odours in the sewers which were affecting you, so I wanted to let you have a brief update on the current situation.

Following discussions with Stepan on Thursday 16″‘ June to make progress in resolving this issue, it has been agreed that repairs to the sewer will start on Monday 20″‘ June This is expected to stop the leak of contaminated ground water into the sewer system. The work will take two to three days. The affected sewer is due to be isolated today and the situation will be closely monitored.

Once the work has been completed the odours should reduce significantly and we are very hopeful that they will disappear completely. It is not possible to put a timescale on this as it depends on many factors, not least the weather and the amount of water going down the sewer.

You need to be aware that the repair work involves fitting a flexible liner to the sewer which is then heated to make it set. This setting process does give off some odours which are very similar to the ones you have already experienced. You may therefore experience a short recurrence as the heating takes place.

Once the work is completed I will write to you again with a further update.

Yours faithfully

Ian Saxon
Assistant Executive Director

Tel: 0161 342 2383
Email: ian.saxon@tameside.gov.uk

After residents successfully secured exposure of the Stepan UK toxic chemical leak on BBC’s North West Tonight news programme, Stepan UK promptly issued the follwoing “update” letter to known affected residents and business owners.

This was a very welcome and long-overdue move, but unfortunately the letter included some disappointingly generic corporate wording that appeared to have been lifted straight from any idiots guide on what to say in such circumstances.

Worse still is Stepan’s knowingly false statement that there is “No threat to health“, which shows a contemptuous attitude towards the residents and business owners who have already reported that they are experiencing exactly the same health symptoms as a result of inhaling the toxic fumes. Symptoms which are recognised as being associated with exposure to Toluene and Xylene – the chemicals involved.

Stepan UK’s Environmental Health and Safety Manager even told a Dukinfield resident back in Februrary 2011 that the symptoms his family are experiencing are exactly the kind of symptoms that one could expect to experience from exposure to the kinds of solvent chemicals present at the Stepan UK site.

Stepan UK Newsletter, 17th June 2011
Title: “Information Update, Stepan UK”

Stepan UK leak: polluting homes and denying health effectsStepan UK is committed to the safety of our operations and the communities where we operate. The following information summarises the history of the problem and the actions we are taking to stop the local odours. We also hope that it provides reassurance about any health effects.

Background

Stepan’s Stalybridge site has a long history of manufacture of ingredients for personal care and laundry products. There is evidence that historical operations have resulted in contamination of the groundwater under the site with solvents, which have a distinctive odour, even in very low concentrations.

Remediation

Remediation (ongoing since 2003) has focused on the removal of solvent from the groundwater. There have also been robust checks on site to ensure that there are no current solvent leaks or spills that might be adding to this problem.

There have been occasional complaints from neighbours about solvent smells in the past and the team at Stepan has been in discussions with United Utilities, the Environment Agency and Tameside Metropolitan Council’s Environmental Health officers about the source and resolution of these concerns.

Recent developments

Recently, there has been an increased number of complaints from local people about odours from the drains. The company has taken action in response to this and has confirmed that no solvents are entering the public sewers via the site drains.
Stepan also checked the two public sewers adjacent to the site and has commissioned the jetting and subsequent camera inspection of the stretch of sewer pipe that is the apparent source of the problem (May 2011).

It is apparent that the current problem is due to groundwater leaking into the public sewers. The lining of this stretch of sewer (which is currently unlined) is the next step to stopping this and resolving the odour problem.

No threat to health

In the meantime, Stepan has been monitoring the situation and taking measurements at a number of local properties.

Stepan engaged a recognised health, safety and environmental consultancy (Bureau Veritas) to assess any possible health impacts. These assessments indicate that, at the levels detected, there should be no harmful health effects for local residents. This information has been shared with the local authority’s Environmental Health department and the Health Protection Agency.

Next steps

Stepan are keen to stop leaks into the sewer network with a new lining for the key stretch of pipe.
Today we have been working to isolate the affected section of sewer to provide a temporary solution until the leaking sewer can be fixed by lining.

Preparation for the lining work is due to start next week on Monday 20″‘ June, and aiming to complete the work as soon as possible. On Wednesday June, the actual lining is planned to take place and the contractors have informed us that this part of the work will cause further smells in the sewers due to the resins used in the lining process.

Stepan will continue to work with neighbours to resolve any concerns related to this issue. We are continuing to work with United Utilities, the company responsible for the local sewer network, Tameside Council and other agencies to implement a rapid solution.

Stepan UK Limited, 16.30 17 June 2011

Following pressure from local residents who met with Tameside Council on 13th June 2011, the council agreed to issue a press release, alerting residents to the situation. This is the first example of Tameside Council having taken steps to inform residents and business owners about the chemical pollution they are being exposed to, despite the number of months that it has been fully aware of the situation and the numerous complaints it had received by this time.

Without this pressure from local residents, there is no evidence to suggest that Tameside Council would ever have issued such information to the public.

Tameside Council Press Release, 14th June 2011
Title: “Chemical odours in Dukinfield and Stalybridge”

Tameside Council Stepan UK LeakDate Released – 14/06/11

RESIDENTS experiencing strong chemical odours in the Dukinfield and Stalybridge area are reassured that the matter is to be brought to a speedy resolution.

The problem, which has re-occurred in the last fortnight, has been traced back to past operations at a company in Stalybridge which manufactures detergents. A combination of factors means that the odours are seeping into the drains and being spread by the sewers along Park Road and nearby areas.

Tameside Council is working closely with the company, Stepan UK on Bridge Street, as well as United Utilities and the Environment Agency to bring the problem to an end at the earliest possible opportunity. The Health Protection Agency has also been asked to give advice on the health effects of the odours.

The part of the sewer where the odours are getting in, and the solution to the problem, have been identified and Stepan is working with United Utilities to get the public sewers repaired as soon as possible.

Tameside Council Executive Member for Environmental Services Cllr Catherine Piddington said: “Stepan have assured us that they want a contractor dealing with this as soon as possible. We will keep in close touch with Stepan and United Utilities to ensure progress in resolving the matter is maintained.”

Cllr John Taylor, a Dukinfield ward councillor who lives close to the area where the fumes are at their worst, said: “I was first aware of this problem when I was first elected to Tameside Council in 1984 and it has unfortunately re-occurred. I live in the neighbourhood and fully appreciate this is a serious problem for residents and businesses and we are working with all the various agencies and the company concerned to resolve it urgently.”

Residents who are concerned about the odours are urged to contact Stepan on 338 5511 or Tameside Council on 342 8355 so that checks can be made.

Original article: Tameside Council Press Release, 14th June

Tameside Council: Happy to take the riskResidents from Dukinfield, who have been suffering health symptoms from the Stepan UK toxic chemical pollution inside their homes for many months, met with representatives of Tameside Council on 13th June 2011 to discuss the matter. The council members present were Councillor John Taylor (Deputy Executive Leader), Sharon Smith (Head of Environmental Services – Public Protection) and John Gledhill (Environmental Services Manager).

During this meeting, residents established that Tameside Council has been aware for many months that the odours, which many people have reported to the council, are being caused by a leak of potentially harmful toxic chemicals – Toluene and Xylene – and that Stepan UK is the confirmed source and has accepted full responsibility. Residents enquired as to why Tameside Council had allowed the situation to continue without action for so many months, knowing that a number of residents are regularly being exposed to the toxic fumes inside their own homes and businesses and that associated symptoms are being reported. The council members were asked why they had not taken any action to evacuate affected homes and businesses or issue any kind of public health alert to let people know about the potential dangers they are inhaling.

John Gledhill, Environmental Services Manager, stated that Tameside Council had not seen any proof that the pollution poses a risk to residents’ health, but conceded that it could not be sure that there is NOT any risk to health and commented that he was now “not so sure”.

Sharon Smith, Head of Environmental Services, then agreed that Tameside Council had so far been “happy to take the risk” with residents’ health by not taking any measures to limit public exposure to the toxic chemical fumes or to alert the public to the situation, despite not being in possession of the necessary facts to establish the safety or otherwise of the ongoing pollution.

The situation continues and (as at 14th July 2011) Tameside Council is still not in possession of the necessary information to establish the safety or otherwise of the situation and has still not relocated affected residents.

Concerned Tameside residents have spent many months trying to establish the exact names of the chemical fumes that are being regularly inhaled by their families inside their own homes, day and night.

Peter Wright, Health and Safety Manager at Stepan UK, has been asked this question directly by residents on several occasions since February 2011, both verbally and in writing, but has always avoided naming the chemicals, only describing them as “a solvent petrol type chemical” and leaving some residents with the impression that Stepan UK itself was not yet aware of exactly what the chemicals were.

Toluene leaking from Stepan UKXylene leaking from Stepan UK

John Gledhill, Environmental Services Manager at Tameside Council, finally named the chemicals in an email to Councillor John Taylor on 31st May 2011, saying: “The problem goes back many years to a long term leak of toluene and xylene”.

We also now know from John Gledhill at Tameside Council that Stepan UK was fully aware that the chemicals involved are Toluene and Xylene as early as Christmas 2010, despite withholding this information from residents when directly questioned about it.