Ex-minister: Waterfront pollution warnings ignored for decades

WARNINGS about potential marine pollution arising at the Waterfront have been ignored for decades, according to local environmentalists and a former politician who spent years fighting development on the reclaimed land.

Senator Syvret at the Waterfront in 2000. He has been a long-time campaigner for an inquiry into the 16 years of ash dumping. (24340203)
Senator Syvret at the Waterfront in 2000. He has been a long-time campaigner for an inquiry into the 16 years of ash dumping. (24340203)

Former Senator Stuart Syvret first objected to the process of using incinerator ash to reclaim the land citing environmental concerns and later questioned the implications of building in the area.

Mr Syvret warned that the toxins in the ash could potentially harm the marine environment and the health of those working and living near the site.

In a proposition calling for an official inquiry into the use of incinerator ash in reclamation landfill written 11 years ago, he accused the States of ‘playing Russian roulette with the health of this community and our environment’.

According to the report with his proposition, the use of incinerator ash for landfill continued from roughly 1979 to 1995, which he said showed ‘an intrinsic inability of the Island’s government to subject itself to meaningful and effective regulation’.

His call for an inquiry empowered to subpoena witnesses and demand attendance and documents was dismissed by a States vote of 37-13 in September 2008 with Members saying it would cost too much and little could be achieved by digging up history, according to reports at the time.

In calling for the inquiry, however, Mr Syvret produced a 22-page report including previous documentation on what had been found in the ash.

Many of the heavy metals found in the water samples taken by conservation group Earth Project Jersey last month (see below) – including lead, copper, manganese, zinc, chromium and arsenic – were identified as being in the ash by a report prepared by Warren Spring Laboratory, which was commissioned by the then Public Services Department.

As the JEP reported earlier this week, EPJ took their test sample on 21 March after the building site for 280 luxury apartments was flooded during the high tide, and murky discharge was seen running off into the water. The group has been working with Save our Shoreline Jersey to raise concerns that when the site floods at tides of over 35 feet, the seawater which collects in the site is exposed to heavy metals in the ash. It then picks up more of the contaminants due to what is called the pneumatic effect.

The pneumatic effect’s potential to affect seawater quality was also highlighted in Mr Syvret’s report calling for an inquiry.

‘A further factor that must be of grave concern is the potential for tidal forces to extract material from the sites,’ he wrote in 2008. ‘This is problematic for several reasons, not least that such erosion would cause the toxic ash to be taken into the marine environment in substantial qualities. There is a risk of significant quantities of infill material being removed from the reclamation sites through the action of the sea.’

When the results of the test sample obtained by EPJ were released, SOSJ co-ordinator Dave Cabeldu said they seemed to confirm ‘the hydro-pneumatic effect of the tide though a waterfront excavation’.

The test samples showed far higher levels of iron, lead and manganese when compared to a control sample.

‘The hydro-pneumatic effect can hugely accelerate the transfer of contaminants from ground to the sea,’ he said.

Mr Syvret’s report also referred to a 2001 report he had commissioned while president of the Health and Social Services Committee looking at health impacts from the reclamation using the contaminated ash.

The report’s authors – two States civil servants – said published studies ‘recognised the possible cumulative and synergistic effect of multiple hazardous agents and identified exposure to contaminated sites which included cancer risk and and the possibility of adverse birth outcomes’.

Environmental protection officers are currently carrying out an investigation into the way tidal water is being drained from the site.

‘A formal investigation is complex and involves more research and analysis than sample gathering,’ the department said in a statement this week. ‘Officers are collecting evidence and composing the case file as quickly as possible.’

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