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EALING.NEWS speaks to Southall resident David Marsden who fears for his community over toxic air pollution which he says is being ignored by Ealing Council

EALING.NEWS speaks to Southall resident David Marsden who for many years has been highlighting his concerns about toxic air pollution in his community which he says has been ignored by Ealing Council and his own local councillors.

Why are you protesting?
The odour nuisance and toxic air pollution directly affects me, my family, near neighbours and friends locally. My eight year old son is asthmatic, and has been hospitalised three times. We know from the tragic death of little Ella Roberta Adoo Kissi Debrah how dangerous air pollution is to children’s lungs and breathing. When my son was nearly four years old, we were walking to his nursery school and he asked me, “Daddy, what’s that smell of burning?” That’s when we started asking neighbours and our elected representatives about it to try to locate the source and get something done to stop it. We started the Clean Air for Southall and Hayes campaign (CASH) as a result.


How long has the issue of the incinerators at Balfour Industrial Estate been going on for?
The issue with the incinerators has likely been going on for years, but we only became aware of their existence and location in March this year. We already knew about the tar odour from FM Conway’s asphalt plant to the west, and the petrol and mothballs odours from Berkeley Group’s Southall Gasworks development to the north. The incinerators are to the north-east, but because we didn’t know about them we thought it was from the gasworks site. But it seems likely now that the “burning plastic” odour is from the incinerators. The incinerators have been there for several years, I believe.

When did you raise it and who did you contact?
I emailed the pollution technical department as per the instructions on the Ealing Council website on 10 March 2022, initially to ask if the incinerators had environmental permits (the published list on the Council website was for 2015). I got a reply on 29 March 2022 saying that the incinerators are too small to require an environmental permit, and that there had been no complaints. Over the next few months, we experienced many more “burning plastic” smells, really strong and so bad you have to close your windows. Not great in the hot summer! And also not great for the kids when they wanted to play outside. Very stressful for us as parents. On 30 August 2022, I noticed the odour yet again and decided to investigate further. I found one of the incinerators burning what appeared to be melamine-coated wood particle fibreboard (MDF), in an open fire in a lumber yard! Doesn’t seem very safe to me! And anyone can just walk in off the street. It’s a residential neighbourhood, with lots of children playing outside on Johnson Street where the main access to the industrial site is.

What support have you had from your local councillors and the council about this?
I write again to the council as I was concerned about the safety, legality and potential health effects of burning wood like this. I got no response, so I wrote again on 26 September 2022, asking for a response.
I copied in my local ward councillors on 3 October 2022, as I noticed on the planning portal that it was suggested that one of the incinerators (Sam’s Recycling) did indeed have an environmental permit, contrary to what I was told in March. I got a reply two days later confirming that at least one of the incinerators does have an environmental permit (but regulated by the Environment Agency, not Ealing Council). The officer also complained that he and his team had to do a lot of work, and had wasted valuable time and resources investigating possible odours from these incinerators for the past year, and failing to verify any complaints. Which is a bit odd, as I was previously told there were no complaints prior to mine.
I didn’t find these responses satisfactory or reassuring, so I emailed councillors again on 11 October 2022 asking for a response from them. I had provided photo and video evidence that was ignored by officers, and as with our experience of six years of odour nuisance from FM Conway and Berkeley Group, our reports are basically not believed and “unverified” by council officers who turn up hours or days later (if at all) by which time the odour is no longer present. To date, I’ve had no further response from officers, and none at all from councillors. It seems like they don’t care, and are certainly not on our side.

What do you want to be done and when?
Firstly, I would have expected an average human to empathise with our suffering and as a minimum say, “we’re sorry you’re experiencing these awful odours, it’s totally unacceptable. We’ll investigate further with you and put a stop to it.” But all we’ve had, like with the Gasworks issue, is silence and gas lighting.

EALING.NEWS has approached Ealing Council for a comment.

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