New Era of Toxic Time Bombs

A New Era of Toxic Time-bombs

by Ritchie Hunter

Veolia site, Garston, Liverpool. Photo courtesy of John Davies

It’s 50 years since an explosion at a chemical plant at Flixborough, Lincolnshire killed 28 workers, severely wounded dozens of others, and damaged buildings more than three miles away. Plans by Veolia UK to process thousands of tonnes of the same chemicals involved in the Flixborough disaster at a plant in Garston, Liverpool, has caused uproar in the surrounding community.

A campaign is now underway to challenge the company’s plan. And there are big questions as to how they were given permission by Liverpool City Council to build in the first place. Veolia want to instal two new 98ft (30m) towers, adding to the two towers already built, where the toxic waste, mainly Cyclohexane, will be heated to over 200C and produce Cyclohexanone, a chemical used to make nylon.

Most of the waste chemicals are coming from “Intel Ireland’s newest factory to come online…producing [micro] chips in high volume.” Which raises a further question of why this toxic waste being shipped here, when it should be dealt with at source. Liverpool City Council have approved this ‘time-bomb’, which has a three mile blast area, and puts at risk up to 30,000 people. They ignored objections that one of the key recommendations of the inquiry into Flixborough was that Cyclohexane waste should never be processed close to residential areas. According to the Skwawkbox, an on-line news site:

“...the council’s planning committee did not even discuss the risk of explosion before approving the construction of the site, only 200m from the nearest school and nearby housing estates.”

The council waved the first plant through using delegated powers (effectively side-stepping scrutiny from councillors). Plans for the second plant passed through on the 9th January this year, even though local residents and environmental groups protested.

Flixborough Disaster 1974

A legal challenge has now been set in motion by campaigners on the grounds that Liverpool City Council have swerved a rule that individual plants have a maximum processing capacity of 30,000 tonnes a year and the combined processing in Garston would be 58,000 tonnes. Questions remain as to why Veolia want to build this plant in Garston and why Liverpool Council are so keen to let them, when there is not only the threat of explosion, but also the ongoing effect on health with pollution in the air and the river.

One reason for Veolia is the existing transport network, with the Port of Garston and Garston Rail Terminal nearby. Both are part of Liverpool’s Freeport where companies have the right to exploit their workers, avoid tax, customs and relax Health & Safety, environmental and planning rules. The Freeport could also be a reason for Liverpool City Council’s support of Veolia’s toxic waste plant. They are trying to make up lost ground “…to take full advantage of new economic opportunities”, part of the brief given them by the Secretary of State for Local Government, Robert Jenrick, when he sent in the government commissioners to intervene in the day-to-day running of a city in 2021.

A really insidious phrase that has been used to describe those who live in the Garston area is ‘Community of Lesser Resistance’ (CLR). This variant on ‘The Path of Least Resistance‘ means

lower-income, minority communities can be easily exploited because of a lack of environmental regulations, economic disparity, and uneven development”.

The Garston Campaign reject this offensive term and are gearing up to organise community resistance to Veolia’s toxic waste plan.

Ritchie Hunter is a Liverpool Trades Council delegate and environmental campaigner. To donate to the Garston Campaign against Veolia’s toxic waste plant contact: garstoncommunityutd@gmail.com