A supposedly ‘green’ electricity plant built on a gigantic rubbish heap has been generating misery for months – by shrouding thousands of nearby homes in a stinking fog of poisonous gas.
The owners of the plant at the Clayton Hall landfill site in Lancashire, sandwiched between the commuter towns of Leyland and Chorley, a golf course and pretty, rolling hills, have received about £1.7 million in green energy subsidies since it opened in 2010.
These levies are added directly to consumers’ household bills. The firm has made a further £1.7 million from selling power to the grid.
But residents say the scheme has made their lives ‘intolerable’.
Mother-of-three Catharine Vamplew told The Mail on Sunday: ‘On cold, still days like we’ve had lately, you don’t even need your windows open – the stench is inside your house. It even gets in your car, so you’re driving around with it.
‘When the odor is strong, it wakes us all up. You can taste it in your mouth and you feel you’re about to choke. My four-year-old daughter told me this morning she was struggling to breathe.’
Her son Junior, seven, said: ‘It’s really stinky. It smells like rotten eggs and you can’t get away from it. I put a pillow over my face when my mummy goes out of my room after putting me to bed so I don’t have to smell it.’
Clayton Hall had been a landfill site for years when its owner, Blackburn company Quercia, decided to generate electricity from it.
Its method, which has been used elsewhere, was to drill into the accumulating rubbish to reach the deepest layers, where rotting refuse produces combustible methane gas.
This is collected by a network of pipes, then burnt in an on-site generator.
The ‘green’ subsidy is paid under the Government’s ‘renewables obligation’ scheme. According to John Constable, director of the Renewable Energy Foundation, the plant provides about 0.002 percent of the UK’s electricity.
Locals are concerned about other issues, besides the stench. The rotting generates other gases as well as methane, including toxic hydrogen sulfide – the acknowledged source of the rotten-egg stench.
In an ordinary landfill, the deep layers where the gas is produced are sealed by the rubbish on top, but drilling down can cause leaks.
In high concentrations – more than 100 parts per million – hydrogen sulfide can be lethal. According to health experts, prolonged exposure to even much lower levels can have serious impacts.
Two to five parts per million cause nausea, headaches, watery eyes and breathing problems for asthmatics. Twenty parts per million cause dizziness, loss of appetite, headaches, memory loss and fatigue.
Mark Clifford, a parish councilor from Clayton-le-Woods, the village nearest the plant, said what had been occasional odiferous outbreaks began to intensify last year after Lancashire County Council granted the company permission to enlarge the tip, drill new holes and extend its life for a further ten years.
‘By December, it was almost unbearable,’ he said.
‘It was especially bad over Christmas – it spoilt a lot of families’ celebrations.
‘On some days, it concentrates in pockets. With a little rain, the chemical reactions speed up, and the smell just gets worse.’
Last week, spouts of fetid vapor were clearly visible rising from the surface of the rubbish.
A deodorizing machine is spraying the area in an attempt to neutralize the impact – but locals say it is failing.
Moreover, they claim parts of the tip are higher than the limit allowed under its planning permission. Mr. Clifford said: ‘Residents used to be able to watch the sun setting over the sea at Blackpool. Now all they can see is a mountain of muck.’
Many residents fear for their health, saying that the gas has caused headaches, dizziness, breathing difficulties, nausea and sore eyes and throats – precisely those symptoms that can be caused by hydrogen sulfide.
They have formed a campaign group, Leyland And Chorley Stink Bomb, which is pressing the Environment Agency to conduct tests to determine the exact composition and concentration of the noxious gas, which, for the moment, remain unknown.
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