Gas emissions at brick factory spark fears

A HEAVILY pregnant woman this week branded as ‘outrageous’ delays to improvements works to a brick factory near her home in Warnham.

Sunday, 11th September 2011, 2:00 pm

Last week the County Times reported Wienerberger Ltd. needs to replace a broken gas cleansing ‘scrubber’ in its chimney but intended to delay its £300,000 implementation by four months until production is quieter during the Christmas period.

With hydrogen fluroride levels not meeting the standards of permitted levels, outraged residents want to see immediate action. They continue to complain of ‘black smoke’ and ‘a low level haze’ surrounding the factory site off Langhurst Road, which is poised to double in size, due to planning permission granted last year.

Cressida Elias, 42, of Graylands Farm Barns, has contacted the County Times to raise her concerns about ongoing issues at the Weinerberger factory.

“I am due to give birth in less than two weeks and have already got two young children,” said Cressida. “The slow action of Wienerberger and the environmental health agency is outrageous.”

Referring to the potential four month delay before the broken chimney ‘scrubber’ is replaced, Cressida said: “The situation is intolerable. I would like to see work at the brickworks halted until a full investigation is done to find out what is happening with this fan, and why are we still getting gassed.

“Nobody knows what these gases are doing and we are supposed to just sit back and wait for meetings to occur some time in the future to discuss something that needs action right now?

“It should be fixed immediately,” she added, “with no more excuses about cost, loss of production, getting parts from Germany etc. There must be a fast solution for everyone’s sake.”

District councillor Christian Mitchell (Con, Holbrook West), concurs, saying ‘the current situation is unacceptable and local residents are understandably very worried’.

“It’s the concerns about any effects to their health, especially Cressida who is due to give birth in just under two weeks, that makes any damage to car paint work pale into insignificance,” said Mr Mitchell.

“Clearly this situation cannot continue which is why I am meeting with the Technical Director of Wienerberger Ltd. and the council’s principal environmental health officer to ensure that the repairs are done without delay.”

Adam Dracott, the local authority’s principle environmental health officer has confirmed that the current ‘emission levels of hydrogen fluoride do not meet the standards in the permit issued by Horsham District Council’.

However, Mr Dracott also stated ‘they are not at levels that present risks to health of residents in the vicinity’.

He said: “The health of local residents is of prime importance to Horsham District Council and the council is ensuring that there are no health risks to them whilst the brickworks in Langhurstwood Road overcomes a failure of the gas cleaning equipment, scrubber, that occurred earlier in the year.”

He also confirmed that in addition to the hydrogen fluroride emissions not being a danger to public health, ‘the other gaseous emissions for which emission limits have been prescribed in the permit... are all within the emission limits and there are no health risks from these’.

But, residents’ concerns continue. The County Times has received complaints of ‘damaged car paint-work’, and a ‘chesty cough’.

Jackie Aldrich, Langhurstwood Road resident for five years, said: “I went out in the morning (Monday September 5) to get my car and the bonnet was covered with shiny marks. We went round to the neighbours and found that everyone’s car was covered in it.

“The smoke over bank holiday was bad, it was not a haze. It was so thick that I couldn’t see some of my neighbour’s homes.

She added: “I lost a sheep last week. We’re not suggesting that it’s to do with the brickworks but now that you can see the chemicals and particles in the air I’m getting very worried.”

Meanwhile Cressida’s neighbour Barry Cullum said: “My car and those of my neighbours have appeared to have suffered paintwork damage from the substances, and it follows that if this is what has happened to our vehicles what will be the effect on our health?”

However, John Sandford, director of technical services at Weinerberger Ltd. warns the ‘low level haze’ residents report, is not related to the need for a new ‘scrubber’ in the chimney, and its potential four month delay before it is fixed.

He said: “Even if Wienerberger were in a position to start the repairs tomorrow it would have no impact on the complaints of black smoke or odour.

“We’re still concerned about the issues and we will do everything we can to get to the bottom of them and work closely with the local authority until we get to a situation where everyone’s happy.

“We’re not trying to get away with anything - we fully accept that we need to do these repairs which will deal with the hydrogen fluoride levels.

“The only point I would make is that these repairs will have no impact on the complaints of smoke and odour.”

Whilst meetings continue to be scheduled between Weinerberger and Horsham District Council, these latter comments from Weinerberger’s Mr Sandford come as small comfort to local residents - especially considering the potential expansion of the Warnham site.

Christian Mitchell confirmed ‘the brickworks was granted planning permission last year to double in size which will make it one of the largest in Europe’.

The district councillor added: “Whilst Wienerberger’s long-term commitment to Horsham is very welcome at this difficult time in the economy, and the growth in jobs that their expansion will create, at the meeting I will also want to be satisfied that their growth is not going to come at the expense of good corporate responsibility to local residents and the environment.

“The current situation undoubtedly leaves a question mark on this point which is why the resolution of the current situation is so urgent.”

With reference to the replacement scrubber, Mr Draycott said: “Horsham District Council has been in dialogue with Wienerberger Ltd. and will be ensuring that the company carries out repairs to the scrubber as soon as reasonably practicable.

“The exact dates for the repair have not been finalised as it is dependent on amongst other things the replacement parts being fabricated at the scrubber manufacturer’s plant in Germany. Representatives from Horsham District Council are in discussions with Wienerberger about progress on the scrubber improvement programme.”