It may have been labelled the country’s smelliest village but it is much more than a bad stench from the local landfill making life miserable for the residents of Silverdale in Staffordshire, who have now started crowdfunding for potential legal action against the site.
For miles around Walleys Quarry landfill near Newcastle-under-Lyme, people have reported waking up in the middle of the night struggling to breathe, with itchy eyes and sore throats. Those with asthma have had their medication increased, and some have reported nosebleeds.
On the Facebook campaign group set up to “stop the stink” from the escaping hydrogen sulphide fumes, children pose for pictures next to air purifiers, many donated by local businesses to struggling families. On the worst days, teachers keep pupils indoors at lunchtime while parents are plagued with worry about the potential health effects.
“I just don’t think people can take it much longer,” said Gill Shears, a supply teacher living in nearby Westlands. “My daughter woke up at four o’clock in the morning with a nosebleed, and that’s scary. You worry what you’re putting your children through. Should I take her away? What’s going to happen to us in years to come, are we going to be ill?”
“It is a disgusting smell, but it’s far more than that. My asthma got a lot worse so I went on to regular inhalers and now I’m on an oral tablet as a direct result of the landfill fumes,” said Sian Rooney, who also lives in Westlands, more than a mile away. “I’m also extremely concerned about my three-year-old boy who’s developed a night-time cough. It’s terrifying.”
They joined hundreds of residents protesting outside the landfill on Monday, as operations resumed at the site after work to “cap off” areas as requested by the Environment Agency (EA) when emissions breached safe limits.
Residents say the capping has made no difference, with the smell last weekend worse than ever, and have now started looking into taking legal action.
“It’s an environmental catastrophe, and it’s becoming a public health disaster as well. I can’t understand why the EA hasn’t acted more quickly on it,” said the local Conservative MP Aaron Bell. He welcomed a letter from Matt Hancock last week urging the regulator to use the full range of its powers to deal with the “woefully inadequate” site management.
“It’s grinding people down, I think we all feel like we’re under siege because it’s completely casting a cloud over the town. It’s been horrific,” Bell said.
Dr Paul Scott, a GP at Silverdale and Ryecroft practice, said hundreds of patients have come to the surgery reporting issues, from physical symptoms to mental distress. “It’s the sheer numbers of people affected by it and we are probably only getting the tip of the iceberg coming to us,” said Scott, adding the surgery was tagging issues on their system as “environmental pollution” to track the scale of the problem.
“We’re connecting breathing trouble, particularly at night, with it. There’s also people getting bad hay fever-type symptoms: eyes streaming, nose irritated. And then there’s the stress if you live nearby and you’re getting the smell on and off for seven days a week. It’s relentlessly lowering the quality of people’s lives.”
The landfill has been operating since 2005, despite objections to the original application in 1997 from the local councils that were overruled by the then environment secretary, John Prescott. The smell has always been a nuisance in such a heavily populated area, but since February the problem has escalated.