Councils face megabucks bill to clean landfill sites

13 Sep 01
Local authorities could be faced with bills of millions of pounds to clear up old landfill sites, following a recent report in the British Medical Journal which suggested a link between birth defects and living near landfill sites.

14 September 2001

Environmental law specialist Stuart Bell at leading local government lawyers Eversheds said that if the link could be proved, then local authorities had a legal obligation to clean up dirty landfill sites. 'If local authorities take the view that there is a significant risk to local health from landfills, then they are under a duty to require the clean-up of that site,' he said.

Councils only have a legal duty to pay for the clean-up of landfills established since 1948, when the current system of regulated management was created. But they may find it impossible to establish who was responsible for the disposal of wastes prior to then, suggested Bell.

The BMJ's research found that 80% of the population in Britain lives within two kilometres of a current or former landfill site. The Local Government Association says about 5,000 have been located, although it believes there are many more.

Andy Elmer, head of environment and development at the LGA, said that he thought that at least 10% of sites needed cleaning up.

Some Victorian waste areas contain serious chemical pollutants, including those of old tanneries which dumped arsenic. The cost, he said, would run into 'megabucks'.

A simple calculation would be a cost of at least £25 a tonne for disposal, with perhaps 1,000 tonnes per landfill. But industry sources put the total clean-up costs much higher.


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