Smelter mustn’t be allowed to leave toxic legacy, say villagers

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HORRIFIED villagers are calling for action to be taken to prevent a toxic legacy being left after Lynemouth’s Rio Tinto Alcan smelter complex closes later this year.

The Lynemouth plant is home to vast lagoons containing millions of tonnes of waste created by four decades of aluminium production, and residents are demanding that they be cleaned out.

Their campaign – launched following concern being expressed about the lagoons at January’s meeting of Newbiggin Town Council – is being supported by Ashington-born businessman Sir John Hall, town councillors were told at their meeting this month.

Some villagers want the Environment Agency to look into the potential for recycling the pulverised fuel ash into granular glass for use in construction projects as such a development would create jobs.

Newbiggin county and town councillor Alan Thompson has been researching the viability of recycling the waste following an expression of interest by Swansea-based businessman Howard Denby, as reported in last week’s News Post Leader.

Coun Thompson told fellow councillors: “I don’t think any other community anywhere in the UK would tolerate that waste being left.

“I don’t think it’s generally realised just how large these lagoons are. They cover the equivalent of three 18-hole golf courses.

“If we are left with that, it could be left there for all time.”

Rio Tinto Alcan proposes to close the aluminium smelter, with the loss of 515 jobs, and sell the 40-year-old power station next door with planning consent for conversion to wood pellet fuel.

Having to take responsibility for the lagoons – including sodium and aluminium fluorides created by the smelting process – could deter potential buyers, fear councillors.

Coun Malcolm Peden told this month’s council meeting, held at the Northumberland Church of England Academy’s Grace Darling Campus: “This power plant will not last much longer because it’s at the end of its life.

“I can’t see anybody taking over this plant and having the responsibility of moving eight million tonnes of ash out of our district.

“Before Alcan disappears over the horizon, we have to get everybody on board to make sure the people of Newbiggin are left with something decent – not a spoilheap for 100 years – for our children and grandchildren.

“I have even contacted Sir John Hall about this to get him on board, and he is on board, to make sure that we are not left with this.”

Coun Thompson added: “This place has been absolutely ravaged in the past.

“We don’t want to hinder anything, but, at the same time, we want as good a deal as anyone else would ask for because we have been used and abused here with all this waste that has been thrown around this area for far too long.”

Environment Agency spokeswoman Alexandra Wales told the News Post Leader: “Should the power station and smelter close, we would closely monitor and manage the whole closure process to prevent any damage to the environment or human health.

“When a power station or similar industrial site is closed, we will oversee the closure plan to ensure that all sources of potential pollution are removed from site before the permit can be surrendered.

“We would also see that the lagoons on the site are capped and restored in line with landfill directive requirements.”

“If the power station is to continue to run under a different owner, then it would still need the lagoons to store the ash, and it would still have to operate under an environmental permit from us.

“A key part of our role would also be to give advice and guidance to any new owners on regulatory requirements, including those covering the condition of land and ground water.”