West Midlands cyanide dumping#2 The rattlechain cyanide!


In 1972 the UK was in the grip of a media storm concerning the dumping of highly toxic chemicals- though in reality this had been going on for years in out of sight out of mind former marl holes like the one at Rattlechain.

This totally unregulated chemical dumping pit had seen earlier local community concerns about what was being deposited there- especially the white phosphorus contaminated waste delivered there by canal barge and also by lorry. It was a “peril to children”, as well as being a place where fires occurred.

It had a “noxious” smell also related to the chemicals being deposited there and had affected human health. There were concerns and clear evidence that the material was also ending up in the local canal system causing a threat there also. It was also a fact that those in charge of waste operations such as the thief Ernest Sulley could not give a toss where the stuff from the AW factory ended up- so long as it couldn’t be pinned on them.

Into this storm of free for all, it probably comes as no surprise that a batch of allegedly flytipped cyanide was found at the lagoon when the flustered authorities felt the heat of public scrutiny. In reality they had probably turned a blind eye for years- or more likely paid well to.

The following appeared in 16th March 1972 Birmingham Daily Post.

Not only have the drums inexplicably appeared at the site, but also as described at “the Brades Road tip” which  can only have been Albright and Wilson’s  Gower Tip in addition. What a coincidence- and perhaps questions for their contractor drivers who were operational at this time- or their bargemen who were still at this point dumping waste by barge.

The quote from Woodhead of Albright and Wilson appears to be a Freudian slip.

“We have disposed of the drums in the same way as we SHOULD have done had they been our own”.

Why “should” and not would?

We do know that Albright and Wilson merely dumped their drums of chemical waste under water- except that the properties of cyanide mean that it produces highly toxic breakdown chemicals when in contact with water.

NaCN + H2O ⇄ NaOH + HCN

Sodium hydroxide and Hydrogen cyanide are produced, the later being a highly toxic gas.

Is the Woodhead saying that they just dumped the drums under water- as they “would have done” with the other barrels? If not then how did AW dispose of the cyanide waste that they DID handle at Trinity Street?

 The post was later updated in the same day. Kay of the local authority appears to have informed uncle Tom cobley and all, yet can only conclude that it must have been flytipping- less concerned about the dangerous chemicals more deadly than cyanide being dumped there already.
Woodhead then speculates that they must have been thrown over the fence from the canal bank pointing out that the site had fencing and a gate but that he would be looking again at security . 😆 
It should be pointed out however that on the adjoining land at this time, concern had already been expressed by AW about the unregulated chemical tipping on land belonging to the land use conman Sydney Sheldon. What did he know about this I wonder?


Despite these incidents that garnered national attention to a serious issue, the resulting Deposit of Poisonous Waste Act merely served to legitimise dumping certain toxic wastes at certain places.  A letter from the Trent River Authority following the passing of this Act in 1972 reveals that discussions took place with the company about what they could subsequently deposit there down John’s Lane, but by this time the damage had already been done and was under water.

The additional legislation of The Control Of Pollution Act further allowed companies like Albright and Wilson the opportunity to continue dumping poisonous and hazardous waste with impunity with the auspices of a paper weight licence so badly worded and full of loopholes that it was not fit for the purpose that it was supposed to serve.

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