Derbyshire villagers made ill by 'potential exposure to toxic waste' fight plans for housing

ITV News Central Correspondent Peter Bearne speaks to residents in a Derbyshire village, who believe exposure to work on a contaminated housing site has made them ill and caused a nasty skin condition

Campaigners in Somercotes near Alfreton are fighting plans to build hundreds of homes on or close to land where toxic waste was dumped over several decades.

The UK Health Security Agency is investigating “potential exposure to toxic waste” experienced by residents in Birchwood Lane, which borders a contaminated housing site.

It comes after two residents suffered seizures and stroke-like symptoms which they believe are linked to harmful substances from nearby historic landfills.

There are plans for over 500 new homes on and near the affected sites - all approved by Amber Valley District Council.

The site was previously a coal mine, before being used as a landfill site in the 1970's.

Ground investigations by developers suggest there could be a large number of toxic substances and chemicals present.

Hannah Tomlison lives in Somercotes and has been in and out of hospital with stroke-like symptoms.

She says she's suffering with shaking, headaches, neck pains, dizziness and tiredness, and believes it's being caused by development work on the nearby contaminated land.

Hannah says: "If it continues, we'll probably have to move. Being rushed in and out of hospital. And family not wanting to come, because of what could be in the air."

Amber Valley Borough Council said that only ground investigation work has begun, not construction, and that there has been nothing to suggest there are soil contaminant present at levels that would be unsafe for development.

A spokesperson said: “The health and safety of all residents in the borough remains paramount, so we are taking the complaints very seriously.

“As a result, we have been in regular communication with various bodies, including the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) and the Coal Authority - and have continued to monitor developments.

“Our investigations of the proposed development sites, including contact with the developers, have confirmed that no construction work has taken place and that the only machinery on site to date has been specifically required for ground investigations.  The current works require the stripping back of the surface layer to inspect for any historic mine workings, including early bell pits and mine shafts This is a strict condition of the planning application. 

"To date there has been nothing to suggest that there are soil contaminants present at levels that would be deemed unsafe for development.

“It is obviously concerning to learn that a number of residents in the area have apparently reported adverse health conditions to their GPs. However, if a patient’s condition ever leads a GP to suspect the presence of environmental contaminants, they have a legal duty to report this to their local UKHSA Health Protection Team (HPT). So far, the council understands that only one such case has been reported, and that subsequent investigations have found that it is extremely unlikely that environmental toxins were the cause of illness. 

"Similarly, the Coal Authority has responded to another health complaint from a resident in Birchwood Lane relating to alleged exposure to mine gas. As a precautionary measure, the Coal Authority set up gas monitoring equipment in the property. Results showed no evidence of mine gas and found that oxygen and Co2 levels were normal.

"Ongoing investigations by all parties have so far indicated that the reported illnesses are unrelated to environmental toxins as alleged. We will nevertheless continue to monitor the situation closely."

In a statement, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) says it "is aware that Amber Valley Borough Council has been contacted by a number of residents in the Somercotes area, reporting a range of symptoms, which residents believe to be a result of exposure to chemicals from a brownfield site bordering their properties.

"The neighbourhood is in an area with historic mine works and near to an industrial waste site.

"Any clinician who suspects that a patient may have been exposed to an environmental hazard, which poses potential risk to them and others, has a statutory duty to notify UKHSA’s Health Protection Team. We have received a single notification.

"Members of the Health Protection Team (HPT) and our Radiation, Chemical and Environmental hazards (RCE) team have liaised with Amber Valley Borough Council and the Coal Authority.

"Having reviewed information supplied by the local authority and the Coal Authority, evidence suggests that it is extremely unlikely that environmental toxins were the cause of any illness reported."

The site was previously a coal mine, before being used as a landfill site in the 1970's. Credit: ITV News Central

Three developers are involved in the project - so far ITV News Central has received a response from one.

An Avant Homes spokesperson said: "Our proposed site at Somercotes is greenfield in nature and has no known landfill areas on it.

"At its closest point, the site is also some 250 metres away from the nearest former landfill site, which is situated across a small valley.

"To support our planning application, and because we are aware of the history of the area, we appointed professionally qualified independent consultants to carry out a thorough and detailed site investigation.

"Soil testing confirmed the absence of any significant concentrations of organic or inorganic contamination on our site.

"If planning permission is granted by the local authority, all works will done be in accordance with any planning obligations and conditions."