Following the fire at the REMONDIS plant in Prescot on Sunday, 4 December 2016, residents have had a number of questions and concerns about the impact on the local environment.
All the agencies involved – REMONDIS, the Environment Agency, Merseyside Fire & Rescue Service, Health and Safety Executive, Knowsley Council, Public Health England, NHS England – have come together to answer your questions.
Update: 21 December 4.20pm
What is happening now at the site?
Demolition of the building is continuing. Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service are continuing to visit the site on a daily basis. In addition, security is at the site 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
The fire started on Sunday 4 December 2016. Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service and Merseyside Police attended the site immediately and put appropriate public safety procedures in place. The fire was brought under control later that day.
Due to the deep-seated nature of the fire, small pockets continued to burn even after the situation was brought under control. These ongoing smaller fires created smoke within the site for the remainder of the week, even though the situation was well under control by that stage.
Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service ceased their operations at the site at 4.00pm on Friday, 9 December 2016, but will continue to attend the site at regular intervals for monitoring purposes.
Are road closures still in place?
Carr Lane reopened with effect from 3.00pm on Friday, 9 December 2016.
What was stored at the site, and which of those materials were burned in the fire?
REMONDIS holds an Environmental Permit (permit number UP3134HY) for the treatment, storage, transfer and disposal of hazardous and non-hazardous waste. The Environmental Permit is issued and regulated by the Environment Agency, and full details of the Permit for the site can be found on the Environment Agency’s website (by searching Public Registers).
REMONDIS is required to keep an inventory of materials stored at the site. The Environment Agency is currently arranging for the inventory to be reviewed.
The Environment Agency are waiting for the site and building to be confirmed safe in order to investigate and determine how the fire started and which materials were burnt.
The Permit enables activities at the site to recover materials for re-use or recycling. The waste handled is permitted to be from both commercial and industrial sources and is categorised as both hazardous and non-hazardous.
What is the known environmental impact?
Environment Agency officers have visited the area every day to assess the impact of the fire. All of the water used to tackle the fire has been contained onsite. The Environment Agency has monitored Prescot Brook and has identified no environmental impact on the watercourse.
At the height of the fire, there was a significant plume of smoke. It rose high into the air and, due to the prevailing weather conditions, did not touch ground at any stage. It was blown away by the prevailing wind and dissipated over the Mersey estuary. As a result of this dispersal, there was no public health risk from the plume. The weather conditions and the dispersal of the plume were monitored throughout the incident.
Apart from the plume, there was also a deterioration in air quality nearer the ground and in the immediate vicinity of the site. The air quality was impaired by the effects of water and carbon given off as a result of the efforts to tackle the fire. Advice was given to local residents to stay indoors and keep windows and doors closed until the situation improved. This is standard advice in cases of significant fires.
Air quality monitoring has been carried out following the fire. The interim results do not indicate any cause for ongoing concern for local residents.
Are there any risks to my health?
As is the case for any fire, Public Health England advised residents to keep their doors and windows closed and to avoid prolonged spells outdoors. People with asthma were advised to use their inhalers and/or other relevant medication. This advice was given due to the deterioration in air quality as a result of the efforts to tackle the fire, and not because of any public health risk associated with hazardous waste.
Dr Sam Ghebrehewet, a Consultant in Health Protection with PHE North West, Cheshire and Merseyside Health Protection Team, said: “It’s important that local residents understand that the risks to their health are low. However, smoke is an irritant so it can make people’s eyes and throat sore. It may also worsen any breathing or heart conditions they have. Short-term exposure is unlikely to cause any health concerns in otherwise healthy individuals; we would not consider that there would be any long-term health impacts associated with exposure to the plume.”
In summary, Public Health England advice continues to be:
Some residents reported a bad smell in the air – what does this mean?
There was a deterioration in air quality in the immediate vicinity of the site. The air quality was impaired by the effects of water and carbon given off as a result of the efforts to tackle the fire. This resulted in the odour experienced by residents.
Is there asbestos at the site?
There was no asbestos at the site. A section of asbestos roofing had been replaced in the past as part of the conditions attached to the planning approval for the site.
There have been reports of debris in the area surrounding the fire. Is it dangerous?
Public Health England has advised that there is the potential for ash and debris from the Carr Lane incident. It is advisable for members of the public to minimise their exposure to the ash and debris but if they do get this on their cars or other hard surfaces, it can be damped down or washed off.
The ash and debris is unlikely to be associated with the plume, which rose high into the air and dissipated some distance away from the Carr Lane site.
REMONDIS has been working to manage and mitigate the impact on the local community and environment. Over the past weekend, REMONDIS has provided vehicles in the Carr Lane area to support the clean-up operations. A team is continuing to operate in the area to clear up any fire-related debris.
Who is responsible for operating the site?
REMONDIS UK are the owners and responsible operator of the site. The Environmental Permit for the site is managed by the Environment Agency.
Who is responsible for regulating the site?
The Environment Agency regulates the site under the Environmental Permitting (England & Wales) Regulations 2010. The Agency is responsible for regulating the site to ensure the operator is compliant with the conditions of their Environmental Permit. Information in the Permit includes conditions regarding the types and quantities of waste and emissions to the environment such as water, dust, noise and odour.
The law on health and safety at work in Great Britain is regulated by the Health and Safety Executive and local authorities according to the circumstances of each site. In the case of REMONDIS, the Health and Safety Executive is the enforcing authority.
Knowsley Council is only responsible for the enforcement of planning law in relation to breaches of planning control. This includes ensuring that operators of new buildings follow the approved plans, and that the operators comply with any conditions imposed (such as materials used for the building, and the timing of construction activities).
Why wasn’t I notified given I live so close to the fire?
The emergency services managed the immediate response to the fire and did not declare it as a major incident. There was no need to evacuate residents from their homes. To ensure residents were updated with timely and accurate messages, agencies such as the Council and Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service, communicated updates from the scene via social media channels and the local media, including use of radio stations and local newspapers. The Environment Agency also tweeted during the incident to provide information.
On 20 December 2016, the Liverpool Echo published photos of two containers by the REMONDIS entrance on Carr Lane displaying a message ‘serious risk to eyes’. What are the containers and why were they there?
The containers are firefighting foam and they belong to Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service which were being used as part of their operation to put out the fire. They have now been collected by Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service and did not pose any health and safety risk to the public.
What will happen next?
Demolition work is ongoing and a thorough investigation has begun to identify the cause of the fire and any further action that needs to be taken.
If REMONDIS want to rebuild, would they need to get planning permission?
Yes, if REMONDIS were wanting to rebuild the facility, they would need to submit a new planning application, including the necessary technical evidence. However, it is too early to say what their plans are.
Is there someone I can talk to if I have further concerns?
REMONDIS UK understands there may be concern regarding the impact resulting from the incident to the local environment and residents. Anyone with any concerns relating to the above should contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Every day, each employee working at REMONDIS UK demonstrates how waste can be treated efficiently and how the environment can be protected. The same is true for our senior management team. Not only is a shared sense of responsibility an integral part of our corporate philosophy, we also work together as a team to uphold the values of the REMONDIS Group – and always with the ultimate goal of preserving our planet's natural resources for future generations.
Managing Director of REMONDIS UK Ltd.
Managing Director of REMONDIS UK Ltd.
Director of REMONDIS UK Ltd.