Albright’s toxic archives #19 White phosphorus fire at Rattlechain

A housing estate at Temple Way had been built on the doorstep of Albright and Wilson’s John’s Lane “Rattlechain Tip” , yet very few people who lived there knew about their toxic neighbour, or what was being dumped there under water. On 8th October 1989 however, a delivery of white phosphorus barrels that were often reportedly “sunk with rifle fire” thrust attention onto the danger on their doorstep.

I have previously covered how The Express and Star neutralised this story, partly due to A&W’s friends at West Midlands Fire Service. But one question that I would ask is, if this was just a routine fire, why did the police helicopter hover over it for some time in a attempt to spot what was occurring from above?

Historic reports of fires had been reported years before the newer houses were built, and another on how a lorry load en route to the site had also started to “strike a light”. But this one revealed the specific risks of the chemical that was being deposited there to a new audience, and it also began to scupper the housing plans being put forward and promoted by the joke that was The Black Country Development Corporation on the former Tividale sewage works.

The Sandwell Evening Mail article that I have recently found from 9th October 1989 gives a little more insight than the other newspaper did. “FAMILIES IN FUMES ALERT” 

It is revealed that it was the residents themselves who had reported the fire, and not any staff or the contractor from Albright and Wilson. The fire chief in charge claimed that

“phosphorus deposits had rose to the surface and spontaneously combusted”

It then goes on to state that the “chemical was bulldozed into a lagoon in the centre of the tip. Phosphorus is quite safe when it is underwater ” he said. “

This is truly quite frightening that someone in such a senior position at West Midlands Fire service was unaware of the whole tipping operation dynamic at this site. The lagoon of course WAS the whole “tip”, and there should have been no spillages anywhere else on the site- as the licence SL31 supposedly stated.

Of course this also reveals what an idiotic statement about “safety” concerning dumping this chemical under water is. It is not “safe” to any wildfowl ingesting the contaminated silt – as the long battle to prove Albright and Wilson and Rhodia’s systemic poisoning of birds ingesting white phosphorus proved.

This is the same West Midlands fire service who were also apparently “in the dark” about the other Albright and Wilson tip at The Gower, until a similar fire there required their attendance just a year later.

The fact that such little regard was given to white phosphorus , a banned rat poison being dumped in the open air , and shovelled under water was compounded by the inadequacy of a regulator who when it did come to the surface and started to smoke advised them to do exactly the same thing and “rake the sediment”, thus exposing the hapless wildfowl to further direct danger.

The Albright and Wilson so called “experts” later went on to explain that the tanker driver, or so their story claims, emptied one of the barrels when it would not sink onto the beach area. It later then caught fire when exposed to air, giving off phosphorus pentoxide and breaking down to phosphoric acid in contact with moisture. Though they may have played this down, the presence of this fire would not have required any helicopter under any normal “routine” circumstances would it?

I just wonder if these individuals when looking down from above thought to ask any questions of “the experts” as to why the pool was glowing in the dark?

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