FOI REQ 3 Links between the Trinity Street Factory and Rattlechain Tip

The links between Trinity Street and Rattlechain lagoon


This request deals with issues relating to historic waste; that is waste produced at Trinity Street and its associated “chemical arm” sometimes referred to as “The Houghton Arm.”  For the full background to this historic method of transporting white phosphorus contaminated waste to Rattlechain lagoon via canal boats click HERE.

There is also Paul Bartlett’s excellent primary source recollection HERE.

Parts of this chemical arm have in the course of time been infilled, though the background to these operations have produced little information as to what remediation was carried out, if any at all, or to where the contaminated contents were removed to.

Linked to this history were the 2013 cover up works undertaken at Rattlechain lagoon involving dredging waste that was deposited from this source.

This is a fairly lengthy request which we will do our best to explain.


The environment agency replied to our questions shown below. Their answers are in red.

1.With regard to the recently completed HPA human health risk assessment carried out concerning Rattlechain lagoon this reported,
“The Environment agency has provided the HPA with data from recent monitoring of the water quality at the discharge point from the site with Birmingham canal” Only “the contaminants which were detected above detection limit” were provided in data in table 5 of this study. I am therefore requesting All the data which the EA provided to the HPA with regard to monitoring of water quality at the discharge point. Can you confirm if any of the provided data was “historic”- that monitored when waste was still being discharged into the site before 2006?

 1. The only data sent to the Health Protection Agency to assist with their human health risk assessment is attached. This relates to a recent analysis of the consented discharge to the canal. “Historic” data was neither requested nor supplied.

2. Waste from the Houghton “chemical arm” was historically deposited into Rattlechain lagoon upto 1974, including waste from ICI operations connected by the same arm as well as Albright and Wilson discharges. In 1997 the EA conducted an audit of the Albright and Wilson site as it then stood. “ times of heavy rainfall storm water can overflow to controlled waters, namely the Chemical Arm Canal (an offshoot of the Birmingham Canal,
Wolverhampton Level). This discharge is permitted and is controlled by the Agency under a separate discharge consent.”

In that same year a section of this canal was infilled. A study of sediment in this canal arm preceeding this authorised operation revealed “only a limited list of determinands is monitored. At the time of sampling, the rate of discharge was substantial. The chemical arm also receives surface drainage from the Albright and Wilson facility. The discharge was consented by British Waterways Board, but should also (be) covered by the integrated Pollution control (IPC) Authorisation, issued by the EA (formerly HMIP) for
the chemical works.”
This study found with respect to trace metals “all the samples collected from the canal exceed both the Dutch “target” values and worldwide background levels by substantial
Furthermore it noted
“Hexachlorobenzene in samples 1,3 and 11 were (1.30-5.1 mg/kg)
4-chloroaniline in sample 3 (700ug/kg) and
Hexachlorobutadiene in samples 3 and 11 (390-710 ug/kg)
The concentration of hexachlorobenzene exceeds the Dutch “limited” value for sediments of 4ug/kg by about 1 thousand fold.”

In characterising the significance of contamination it reported “to summarise; the sediments are highly contaminated by trace metals, oil, some industrial solvents, hexachlorobenzene and PAH.” (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons)

In light of this historic contamination which is known to have been carried and transported into the rattlechain lagoon, can you confirm if the agency has analysed any samples in any form for the highly carcinogenic (and banned under The Stockholm convention on persistent organic pollutants), hexachlorobenzene? (NB THIS WAS NOT TESTED FOR IN THE HPA STUDY IN ANY FORM.)

2. The only analysis for hexachlorobenzene found in our records is in the same attached analysis with a result of less than 0.001 micrograms per litre.

3. Does the EA hold any recorded information as to where the material identified for removal in this infilling proposal (“about 1600 tonnes”) was removed to or where it was proposed to be moved to. I am requesting any relevant letters or file notes and
assessments made by EA officers as to the reasons why the environmental fate of the contaminants was chosen.

3. We have no records or correspondence relating to a removal of material from the Chemical Arm to the Rattlechain Lagoon in 1997. The correspondence relating to a proposal of this nature in 2000 has already been supplied to you in response to a previous request. The works were eventually done in 2001 but did not involve disposal to the Rattlechain Lagoon. The contractors, Dean and Dyball, employed Biffa to take the waste to their treatment plant in Potters Lane, Wednesbury instead.

4. In the HPA Rattlechain study which stated “the risk assessment has been restricted to an assessment of potential human health risks and does not include an assessment of risks to any other receptors such as wildlife or controlled waters, as this was beyond
the scope of the works”– (i.e the limited “works” that Rhodia paid them and their contractors to carry out), many of the contaminants found in lagoon water were “not analysed” in the rattlechain lagoon sediments. (Table 8).
Does the EA hold any data to fill in these missing data sets, which were for some reason not identified as missing by those in the so called “steering group”? I am particularly interested in Benzo(a)pyrene detected in the soil but not analysed conveniently
in either the sediment or lagoon water. Does the EA hold any recorded information whereby it has assessed the risk to controlled waters by either the current conditions identified in the HPA report or the proposed works being considered by Rhodia?

4. The only data we hold that has not been supplied to you already and could be said “to fill in the HPA data sets” is the attached analysis which was supplied to the HPA for their study. As well as the discharge to the canal, we use the monitoring analyses submitted by Rhodia to identify any risks to controlled waters. I have attached Rhodia’s results that are held on our public register.


5. In light of the fact that Albright and Wilson carried out supply of “signalling device” explosives for the admiralty under contract at The Oldbury site by obtaining a Home Office Explosives license, has the EA carried out any soil analysis concerning nitroguanidine
at either the rattlechain site or the Trinity Street site or ground water analysis at either site?(NB THIS WAS NOT TESTED FOR IN THE HPA STUDY IN ANY FORM.)

5. We have not analysed for nitroguanidine in any samples from either the lagoon site or at Trinity Street. As it is said to photolyse in aqueous systems with a half life ranging from 0.6 days in summer to 2.3 days in winter, we would not expect to find it anyway.


The EA responded.

“Does the EA hold any recorded information as to where the material identified for removal in this infilling proposal (“about 1600 tonnes”) was removed to or where it was proposed to be moved to. I am requesting any relevant letters or file notes and assessments made by EA officers as to the reasons why the environmental fate of the contaminants was chosen.”

“Thank you for providing us with the planning application number BCS3710 for the proposal, and further information regarding our consultation response to the planning application, in your request for clarification dated 4th December 2012.  Our planning consultation file has been deleted so, in response to this question concerning 1997, we can only repeat that we can find no recorded information on our files as to where the material identified for removal in this infilling proposal was removed to or where it was proposed to be moved to.  We have however been able to obtain a copy of the Grant of Planning Permission dated 26 February 1997 from Sandwell Council’s public register.  This appears to have permitted the proposal to cap the sediments in situ.  Albright and Wilson’s concerns were addressed by culverting their discharge pipe through the capping fill to the remainder of the Chemical Arm to the north.”

 You later state and ask – “NOTE – I did not refer to Rattlechain Lagoon in this question and your reply concerns 2000 and Rattlechain Lagoon.  Can you therefore confirm if the section of canal you are referring to was within the Albright and Wilson site?”

The section of canal we were referring to was not within the Albright and Wilson site.  It was the section under the M5 motorway controlled by the Highways Agency and the information we gave on these works remain the same as in our original response to you dated 30/11/2012. 

 You also ask – “Can you also supply me with the information which you have stated that I have previously received (but have not asked for or received) concerning the section of canal that you are referring to in relation to question 3 of my request?” 

 Our records indicate the 2 letters we referred to were supplied to you under cover of our letter to you dated 17 May 2010 in response to your e-mail to us dated 13 April 2010.  However, in case we are mistaken and they were not included in the reply to that request, we are attaching them now.  As explained in our original response on 30/11/2012, this operation never took place because an alternative disposal route was chosen by the contractor. 

The letters refered to were not supplied to us in May 2010.

A PDF file enclosing a letter from Tom Dutton to the EA requesting permission to deposit approximately 1500m3 of canal sludge into the North part of Rattlechain lagoon dated May 5th 2000. Attached is a chemical analysis refered to in the letter.

The table of elevated heavy metals in this sludge is quite striking, as is the level of hexavalent chromium, 16 and 21 mg/kg , a substance most associated today with drinking water scandals in the US exposed by Erin Brockovich and her team. Remarkably, but perhaps not that much where Rhodia were concerned, there is no level for any tested white phosphorus in the sediment. How remiss to not test for this key pollutant that this company knew full well would be present in this waste!


The reply from the EA did give them permission to allow this operation to take place. Read this HERE


  • The chemical arm contained many toxic chemicals not covered by the rattlechain waste management licence.
  • The survey undertaken relating to the planning application gives a good idea as to what chemicals were contained in the waste stream when waste was delivered by canal barge to Rattlechain lagoon.
  • The planning application refers to an area of the canal outside the Albright and Wilson ownership. The environment agency letters refer to an area of the canal controlled by The Highways agency. Why then would a private company seek to ask permission of a regulator to deposit someone elses waste sediment into their own tip?  Were they being paid for the privilege, or did they know that they may be held culpable for the chemicals within the contaminated sediment? Or were there several agencies keen for the contents of this sediment to be buried without public scrutiny?
  • The environment agency appear to have given the green light for Rhodia to carry out the disposal to Rattlechain lagoon, regardless of what operation was eventually chosen. This has to be worrying as to what other operations have been given the go ahead over the years by regulators concerning “one off” dumping of material not consistent with the licence. Before the licensing regime, it may have been just an unrecorded phonecall that gave the green light.
  • We are confused by The environment agency supplied information with regard to exactly which part of the chemical arm was “capped in situ”, and which part they claim the sediment was removed off site elsewhere. The amount of estimated sediment to be removed in the 1997 Gerald Judd report and the letter from Rhodia asking permission to deposit the waste in Rattlechain lagoon in 2000 are remarkably similar. We have found no record in the file for the 1997 application regarding “capping in situ” or when this operation was undertaken- indeed the EA advice from Gill Clayton makes this operation highly unlikely to have happened- but this Google Earth picture confirms that the Gerald Judd study area with its associated sampling points was indeed concreted over by 12/1/99. SO WHAT HAPPENED TO THIS SEDIMENT CONSIGNMENT IDENTIFIED TO BE SO HEAVILY CONTAMINATED IN THE INDEPENDENT STUDY?

There does not appear to be much of the arm, left to infill in 2000


sampling locations chemical arm