FOI REQ 1- The AW phosphorus factory.





“I am requesting whether you hold a copy of The Environment Agency’s Audit of the Albright and Wilson chemical works at Oldbury in 1997?”


A case study caught our eye in the excellent Friends of the Earth’s Polluting Factory campaign Guide , June 1998. Download this guide below.


On page 27 of the report a case study explains the background to the audit.

Citing The ENDS Report,  the Albright and Wilson Factory which produced the waste that went into Rattlechain was audited by the newly formed Environment Agency for 6 IPC processes,(Integrated pollution control), and also included “the landfill” operated by AW- N.B RATTLECHAIN LAGOON. The Campaign guide as well as the ENDS report 260, September 1996 p4 noted that the company  relied too heavily on “end of pipe” safeguards against spills and surface water contamination. We obviously wanted to know more about the findings of the EA  at this point in history- just 2 years before we noted the first bird deaths at Rattlechain. We also wanted to make this document put into the public domain, where previously it did not exist online for people to access.


The agency supplied the report via the website.  Read the Environment Agency Audit here

Some findings of the report

The report explained on page v

“Large scale site audits were developed by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Pollution (HMIP) as a supplement to the routine regulation under Integrated Pollution Control (IPC) of particularly complex sites or those which have a high potential to pollute, so that an assessment could be made of their overall environmental performance.”

However on page x it is revealed that Albright and Wilson had plenty of advance notice.

“The company was informed of the Agency’s intention to carry out the audit in good time.”

 page v comments

“The major potential environmental hazards are due to the quantities of phosphorus, chlorine, phosphorus chlorides, and phosphine gas used or produced on the site; however, a wide range of materials are produced in many processes of varying size and complexity, with potential discharges to land, air, and water…. Staff from the Agency’s Water Quality and Water Resources functions investigated surface drainage and site water use, and Waste Regulation Officers checked compliance with the Duty of Care and the Waste Management Licence for the Company’s nearby landfill site.”

A main comment of the report noted on page vi

“The Works management do not seem to have fully assimilated -or, perhaps more likely, communicated -all that the Environmental Protection Act 1990 (EPA90) requires; for example the concept of residual BATNEEC (Best Available Techniques Not Entailing Excessive Cost), with the requirement in the first instance to prevent the release (of prescribed substances), and only where that is not practicable by the use of BATNEEC, to reduce the release to a minimum and render harmless any such substances which are released.”

Concerning Rattlechain lagoon it claimed on page viii

“The Rattlechain Landfill Site complies with all licence conditions, and borehole samples demonstrate that it is well contained. A number of interesting projects are in progress to minimise the amount of waste arising from the Oldbury site.”

We have considerable evidence later supplied by the EA themselves in a subsequent request which irrefutably proves that the statement concerning compliance is not the truth. Not only this, but after this audit took place and yet AW boasted in Appendix 2 of the report

“Albright & Wilson place the highest priority on the protection of its employees, customers, neighbours and others who may come into contact with, or be affected by, its operations or products. This is the guiding principle of our Health, Safety and Environment Policy.”

On page 37 of the report

“The disposals to Rattlechain Landfill Site are primarily sludges with a solids content of around 5 to 10%. The solids settle out and the resulting liquid is filtered before discharge under Agency licence to the Birmingham Canal, Wolverhampton Level.

Responsibility for discharges to sewer and to the canals from both the Oldbury site and from Rattlechain lies with the Works Manager.”

On page 50 it observes

“The filtered water awaiting discharge in the collecting area, which is separated from the main lagoon by a causeway, supported a variety of rushes and grasses along with a number of coots and ducks.”



The report now in the public domain for the first time can now be seen in its present day context. The conclusions made especially concerning Rattlechain were highly dubious and based on the same cursory glance as officers testing the canal discharge.  There is no mention of the toxicity of white phosphorus in the rattlechain sediment or how a substance such as this can possibly be described as being “inert”- (though this was a major failing and oversight of the West Midlands County Council Waste disposal officer Ken Harvey who approved the original licence.)

Albright and Wilson had in their own words “good time” to sweep away mess under the carpet before the inspectors started asking questions- so was this just a factory tour rather than a snapshot factory inspection?

It offers some intriguing background knowledge concerning the processes employed at Trinity Street and also at Rattlechain.

  • Works managers salary increases were linked to both their individual and the site’s performance against targets including an absolute requirement that there should be “no pollution incidents or notifiable incidents”. Therefore if the managers reported releases they would not get bonuses. An example was cited of a chlorine leak at the factory which was a notifiable release. So what incentive would a works manager responsible for Rattlechain have to report any problems there?
  • The agency had not set limits on some releases in the original authorisation, because they had insufficient data. Though AW provided data, the EA had still not set limits. AW were also using their own non-standard methods for sampling, largley because the agency had allowed them to do so.
  • Reportable releases were based on a managers own view of “risk assessment”. If  “no harm” had been found to have occurred the incident was not reported, which gives an outrageous self regulatory role of what some people perceive as “no harm”- eg if a bird was found dead at the Rattlechain site- it is unlikely that a manger would have even deemed this as “harm”.

“The Rattlechain Landfill Site has an Agency target sampling frequency which is related to the consented volume of the discharge, hence inspections by Agency officers are less frequent than at the Oldbury site discharge point. During the period 1.1.93 -1.10.96, 13 inspections were undertaken by Water Quality officers and nine samples taken.. There have been no breaches of the discharge consent during this period, with values for all determinands well within consented limits.”

Only 13 inspections in 3 years. Is this really “good regulation” of a “hazardous landfill site”? It can later be seen in a request concerning discharge to the Birmingham Canal that WHITE PHOSPHORUS WAS NOT SOMETHING THAT THE ENVIRONMENT AGENCY EVER TESTED FOR. CONCLUSION- LIMITED ANALYSIS=POOR REGULATION.