Industrial waste exposed after River Spodden banking collapses

Date published: 17 April 2019

Rochdale Online can exclusively reveal that a section of River Spodden banking, once owned by Turner Brothers Asbestos (TBA), has recently collapsed into the watercourse - exposing industrial waste from a former asbestos tip.

Shocking photos show fibrous industrial waste in the disturbed banking into the Spodden, a tributary of the rivers Irwell and Mersey that pass through two heavily populated areas.

According to concerned locals, recent heavy rains have worsened the condition of the banking.

However, Rochdale Online can now reveal that a local resident complained to Rochdale Council about the condition of the banking over six months ago - known to be the boundary of a large tip used by the TBA factory from the 1920s until the early 1970s.

Campaigners and local residents have expressed anger and frustration at, what they believe, is the way Rochdale Council has known about the toxic legacy of the former asbestos factory site whilst appearing to dismiss concerns about public health.

Hilda Palmer, of the Greater Manchester Hazards Centre, said: "These are horrific photos that appear to show fibrous waste exposed by erosion in the area of a well-known asbestos tip. If this is asbestos, the contamination of a watercourse that runs through such densely populated conurbations is cause for alarm.

“It is foreseeable that asbestos fibres – a known carcinogen – could be deposited downstream, dry out, become airborne and create a risk of inhalation.

"We have been working with local residents and campaigners about such concerns for almost 15 years. 

"Too many times it appears legitimate concerns have been met with deaf ears and blind eyes from Rochdale Council. I remember Save Spodden Valley campaigner Jason Addy meeting with senior Rochdale Council Environmental Health and Contaminated Land officers at Telegraph House in 2010 only to be told that the TBA site was "not a priority" to be scheduled as Contaminated Land.”


Fibrous industrial waste spewing from the disturbed banking into the River Spodden
Fibrous industrial waste in the disturbed banking into the River Spodden


Once the world’s largest asbestos textile factory in the world, archived documents from the Turner Brothers Asbestos company dating back to 1957 show the factory was dumping several tonnes of asbestos waste every week.

Read more about the history of the Turner Brothers Asbestos here:

An environmental report drafted by Atkins Global, paid for by Rochdale Council, in 2006 confirmed the area now subject to the land slip contained potentially tens of thousands of tonnes of asbestos factory waste – up to four metres thick in parts.

At the time of publication 13 years ago, campaigners demanded that Rochdale Council use its powers to demand the landowners tackle the pollution problems and pay back the cost of the Atkins Report.

Incredibly, the site has never been classified as Contaminated Land – a legal term that enforces liabilities on the landowner to tackle dangerous pollution. Yet in 2004, a draft report by a previous Rochdale Council Contaminated Land officer recommended triggering the Contaminated Land process.

However, this was never acted on by Rochdale Council and the officer left within months of the draft being written.

A copy of this report was requested by a member of the public at a special Spotland and Falinge area forum over two years ago but the Head of Public Health attending the forum suggested she had never had sight of any such report.

Hilda Palmer concluded: "Local people are quite rightly incensed at Rochdale Council's apparent inaction. Why has this site been allowed to fester for almost 15 years?

“In all that time the public have expressed reasonable concerns that seem to have been repeatedly dismissed by Rochdale Council – especially in the lenient way the landowner has been dealt with. Just what is going on? The toxic time bomb of a land slip was warned about years ago. It has now happened.

“It requires an urgent response from all the relevant authorities including the Environment Agency, Rochdale Council and Public Health England.

"We expect an urgent response, clear communication and immediate action.”

Nicola Rogers, head of public protection at Rochdale Borough Council, said: “Although the council does not own the Turner Brothers site, we have for many years tried to find a long-term solution for it. This includes lobbying government for the significant funding that would be required to clear the area and we have worked with the landowner to make improvements to security and removing fly-tipping.

“The Environment Agency (EA) is the body responsible for the protection of the natural environment along water courses and the photos provided to the council this week have been sent to them.”

An Environment Agency spokesperson said: “The Environment Agency takes waste crime very seriously and we are aware of the former Turner Brothers site situated in Rochdale. We have been working with our area partners for a number of years in regard to this issue and we are in talks with the representatives of the current land owners.

“We will continue to work with our partners to ensure the ongoing safety of the site and the environment which surrounds it.

“However, if members of the public do suspect waste crime is taking place, we always encourage them to report it to Environment Agency incident hotline 0800 807060 or anonymously to Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.”

Read more

There are over 250 articles dating back to 2005 relating to the former asbestos factory site and the Save Spodden Valley campaign in the Rochdale Online news archives:

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