DEFRA REQ 2- Hazardous Oldbury substances


Hazardous substances Oldbury- Rattlechain lagoon




We asked the aid of Local MP for West Bromwich West Adrian Bailey; his constituency covering both the Trinity Street works and The Rattlechain site. Unfortunately the wording of the question posed did not exact the information needed to clarify accurate amounts of white phosphorus in the sediment from an independent regulator view; moreover it served to divert attention to the “small amounts” which has been the persistent misleading mantra from Rhodia.

A Parliamentary question was asked by Adrian Bailey MP, and answered by former minister Dan Norris on 15th June 2009. This concerned the future of the site in context with the Environment agency regulation. Another  Parliamentary question asked by Mr Bailey concerned the amount of white (yellow) phosphorus contained in the waste stream.

“Hazardous Substances: Oldbury
Mr. Bailey: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs when the Rattlechain chemical waste lagoon in Oldbury was last inspected by the Environment Agency; and what percentage
of the waste in the lagoon was identified as yellow phosphorus in that inspection. [R] [278063]

Dan Norris: The Environment Agency last inspected the Rattlechain chemical waste lagoon in Oldbury on 7 April 2009.

It is not possible to determine during an inspection the percentage of yellow phosphorus in the deposited waste. Much of the deposits are historic and underwater.
The site closed in March 2006. Analysis indicates a level of phosphorus in deposited calcium phosphate sludge to be in the order of 0.01 per cent.”

 We were not satisfied with either this question, which did nothing to get to the forensic truth, nor the vague answer which accompanied it. We therefore submitted a freedom of information request to the Environment Agency for more clarification.


Question (i)

We asked for Evidence of any “analysis” [Defra] holds and when this analysis was carried out concerning how this figure was derived and reported by the former minister, given that the Environment Agency claim to have never tested for this chemical in the sludge, nor the barrels of waste reported to contain white phosphorus up to 1% by volume? Logically if the Department does not hold this information, was the minister or those briefing him making this figure up?

Answer from Defra

The response to the Parliamentary Question asked by Adrian Bailey MP and answered by former minister Dan Norris on 15 June 2009, which you referred to in your email, was provided directly by the EA and did not include any additional briefing or policy input from Defra. However, the EA has now provided Defra with additional information as a result of the consultations referred to above under “Chronology”. The figure of 0.01 per cent was derived from an analysis results table in the 1990 Cremer and Warner Report on the Rattlechain Lagoon commissioned by the Black Country Development Corporation (Table 3.8 Summary of Lagoon Sediment Contamination).

The result for elemental phosphorus in the lagoon sediments was reported as a range of 0.4 – 122.0 mg/kg in this table. The higher figure was converted to a percentage and rounded out to give 0.01 per cent.

The Cremer and Warner Report was supplied to you in April 2009 by the EA.

 This is the section they refer to


 Note the phosphine levels PH3 0.8-113 mg/kg

Question (ii)

How much yellow/white phosphorus by weight (not percentage which offers disingenuous connotations about the amount of this banned toxic rat poison) is estimated to be in the sludge in the lagoon?

Question (iii)

With the estimated human lethal dose of white phosphorus to be between 50-100mg, less than potassium cyanide, what percentage is this of the overall weight of white phosphorus contained in the Rattlechain sludge?

 Answer from Defra

 (ii)+ (iii) “The EA has told Defra that it does not have sufficient information about the total quantity of waste in the lagoon to calculate this figure as the site was operational from 1948 to 1978 before it was licensed in accordance with the provisions in the Control of Pollution Act 1974 (and more recently under the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2010).

The information is therefore not held by Defra and the exception under regulation 12(4)(a) of the EIRs is engaged. This exception provides that a public authority may refuse to disclose information to the extent that it does not hold that information when an applicant’s request is received.”



The Cremer and Warner report (22 years old at the time of this request) was based on what Albright and Wilson told the consultants was in the pool. Phrases such as “AW advise that”, and “C&W understand from A&W” permeate the report, conveniently tailored to not include information such as Albright and Wilson were allowing other organisations to dump their waste into the tip on a charge basis before licensing in 1978.
There is no way that this EA manager can gauge the amount of white phosphorus in the sediment- but the figure quoted from the report is a prime example of how politicians and those who brief them can manipulate statistics to deceive.

 The truth about weight of white phosphorus BECAME CLEARER WHEN WE ASKED THE Environment Agency a further Freedom of Information request, from their answers we asked further questions for greater clarification.