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Written - Recovering The Clean-Up Costs At Brofiscin Quarry From Contaminated Waste Produced By The Monsanto Group

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Carwyn Jones, Minister For Environment, Planning & Countryside
The Monsanto Group has operated a number of facilities throughout the UK from as far back as 1919 when the company entered into partnership with RA Graesser Chemical works in Ruabon.  The group currently operates as Solutia UK.

Due to the length of time the company has been operational within the UK wastes will undoubtedly have been disposed of at a significant number of sites and by a large number of operators working for the company.  No assessment has been made of any potential clean up costs for contaminated wastes relating specifically to the Monsanto Group during its operations within the UK.  I have therefore focused my statement on the Brofiscin Quarry at Groesfaen which has been the attention of recent media interest.

The Brofiscin quarry was used as a disposal site for industrial and chemical waste between 1965 and 1970.  Consent to deposit wastes at the Brofiskin site was given to Industrial Waste Disposal (South Wales) Ltd in August 1965.  The site was not used exclusively by the Monsanto Group and accepted wastes from other businesses in the area.  These deposits pre-date the waste management controls on waste recovery or disposal sites under the European Waste Directive.  It is acknowledged that controls at the time were less rigorous than they are today.

The site occupies an area of approximately 1.5 hectares.  Waste is confined to the Western end of the quarry.  Below ground the waste mass is ‘wedge’ shaped extending to a maximum depth of 6 metres at the deepest point, in the far western end of the quarry.  The waste types that were deposited are understood to include: Barium-, Calcium- and Zinc- based petroleum additives; Chlorinated Hydrocarbons (Trichloroethylene, Methylene Chloride (Dichloromethane), and Ethylene Dichloride (1,2 Dichloroethane)); Phenols’ Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCB’s); white spirits; plastic manufacturing wastes; organophosphorous compounds; and distillation residues containing aniline and  surfactants.  Other wastes contain metals (Arsenic, Mercury, Lead, Copper, Vanadium, Chromium VI, Zinc, Manganese, Barium, Calcium and Aluminium).

Initial studies in the 70’s and 80’s and further investigations since 2001 have been carried out to identify potential pollution at the site. The main focus has been to identify if some of the waste deposited at the quarry during the ‘60s and ‘70s is getting into surface water, groundwater, air or affecting human health.  Investigations are also ongoing as to which companies and/or individuals made the waste deposits.

A summary of reports from investigations can be found in the table below.
1978 July
Water Research Centre Report for DoE, Programme of Research on the Behaviour of Hazardous Wastes in Landfill Sites. Brofiscin Landfill: A study of Possible Water Pollution by Leachate 3 deep boreholes to north of quarry. Contamination was encountered.
1983 Dec
WRC Report to DoE , ‘An Investigation into Groundwater Pollution Beneath Brofiscin Landfill, South Wales’ Monitoring of previous boreholes.
2000/01 Komex environmental consultants commissioned. Various reports published in early 2001;
• Water Features Survey
• Soil Vapour Survey
• Vapour Thresholds Study
• Phase 1 Environmental Assessment Report Part IIA collation of available information – preliminary understanding of environmental setting and all potential pollutant linkages.
2001 July Part IIA of EPA 1990 Contaminated Land Regime.   EA to provide technical support to the local authority with regard to controlled waters. EA responsible for securing remediation of sites designated as special sites.
2002 Sept CELTIC Report; Phase 2 Environmental Assessment – published Boreholes drilled into the waste mass within the quarry. List of current chemicals constituents at source established.
2004 Jan Atkins rock fracture mapping of quarry face. Report; Analysis of Rock Fracturing To provide an understanding of potential vapour pathways through rock.
2004 March Atkins report; Conceptual Model and Pollutant Linkage Assessment Review and collation of all previous information to establish list of all potential pollutant linkages.
2005 March Record of Determination published by Rhondda Cynon Taff CBC ( RCT )
Site determined as contaminated land by way of pollution of controlled waters (i.e.  ground and surface waters ) and subsequently designated a special site by RCT. EA becomes lead regulator for site, responsible for securing remediation.

Studies have included: assessment of the waste mass; human health studies to assess the potential impact through direct exposure or via any vapour or dust generated from the site; and surveys to assess the impact on groundwater and surface water.

Since 2005/06 the Welsh Assembly Government (Waste Policy Branch) has provided £383,000 to the Environment Agency (Contaminated Land Capital Projects Programme) to undertake investigations (£274K in 2005/06 and £109K in 2006/07).

These investigations to date have confirmed that there is no identifiable harm or immediate danger to human health.  Studies and monitoring do confirm some as yet unquantified pollution of deep groundwater and surface water.  The extent of surface water contamination is limited to the wetter winter months, when groundwater levels within the quarry rise and flow along drainage ditches.  There is currently no measurable impact in the surface water of the nearest main watercourse.

Under current environmental legislation the local authority has the lead statutory duty to investigate potential contaminated land.  In March 2005 the Environment Agency became the lead enforcement authority once the site was designated as a ‘special site’ by the local authority under Part IIA of the Environmental Protection Act 1990.  The site was designated specifically because of the nature of the geology and contamination present rather than the severity of contamination.

Since becoming the lead enforcement authority, the Environment Agency has sought to fully understand the current risks to ground and surface waters and to determine the most cost-effective way forward to protect the local environment and to recover costs from those liable.  To ensure a co-ordinated approach the Environment Agency, Local Authority (Rhondda Cynon Taff County Borough Council), the Health Board, National Public Health Service Wales and the Food Standards Agency have been working together.

The Contaminated Land Regime in the UK looks at “significant possibility of significant harm” in the context of land use.  The regime requires a link (pathway) between any pollutant (source) and a receptor (human or environmental).  Failure to establish a link makes it difficult to justify unnecessary remediation.  So far no link has been established, hence why attention is focussing on investigating and modelling the site.

Current studies are looking at the full depth and extent of groundwater contamination beneath the quarry and as explained above any significant pollutant linkages within ground and surface water.  This investigation, which the Agency hopes to report on in Spring 2007, will bring together all monitoring results to date and provide an interpretation of what is happening on the site.  This report is intended to inform decision making on the most appropriate remediation method.

The recent media attention has focused on the potential for remediation costs to fall on the public purse.  Remediation costs will be dependant on the risks identified at the site.  Whilst remedial action costs have yet to be fully identified for Brofiscin (these will relate to the findings of the current investigation), the Environment Agency anticipates they will be significantly less than worst-case scenarios quoted in the media reports (over £100 million).

In line with the Polluter Pays Principle the Environment Agency has sought to identify the “appropriate persons” for remedial work (i.e. who is responsible for remedial costs).  In respect of the bankruptcy proceedings in the US against Solutia Inc the Agency advises that its lawyers have been pursuing options to identify liability for the pollution at the site and that written representations have been made to the US bankruptcy court in New York.  These representations request that specific provision be made for any liabilities identified as the responsibility of Solutia UK limited (previously Monsanto).

Welsh Assembly Government has made a potential contingency liability of £20 million for remediation works at the site.  Specific requirements will be dependant on the outcome of the investigative studies.

The Environment Agency continues to work closely with other public sector bodies and to keep local residents informed.  The Agency will arrange a public meeting with local residents and interested parties once the latest report is concluded.