‘Hickson’s will always be toxic’

Hickson and Welch exterior.
Hickson and Welch exterior.

A FORMER worker at Castleford’s defunct Hickson and Welch chemical plant claims the site will always be toxic and should never be built on.

Lawrence Pease – who worked as a technician at the plant for 15 years – said tonnes of carcinogenic chemicals such as bladder cancer trigger, methylene bis ortho chloroaniline (MbOCA), were dumped in landfills at the Wheldon Road site.

He claimed hazardous waste was frequently buried in the ground and the land would never be safe for development.

Mr Pease, 64, said: “I know for a fact that what we put in a site in the low field, opposite the south bank of the River Aire, was unbelievable. A lot of people died working with MbOCA and benzene and those chemicals are buried in a big hole on the site.

“We put MbOCA in there every time a batch went wrong. We were instructed to take it to the landfill. There was tonnes and tonnes of it.

“If it was ever dug up or came into contact with people, I dread to think what would happen.

“It’s always going to be toxic, it will never be clear of toxins because of the nature of the chemicals down there.

“I don’t think they would ever be able to build on there. What guarantees are the owners going to give the people of Castleford it’s safe?”

Mr Pease wrote to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) following announcements by Wakefield Council that the site, which closed in 2005, would be earmarked for development in the Local Development Framework (LDF).

The former Hickson employee, who is tested every four months for bladder cancer, received a response confirming hazardous chemicals, including MbOCA, had been deposited in the land adjacent to the river.

It also said 192 tonnes of chemical waste were still stored on the site – despite the council revoking a storage licence last September.

Mr Pease, of Redhill Avenue, Castleford, added: “The council lifted the licence and they’re trying to impress on the public that it’s safe, and it’s far from safe.

“I’m concerned about those 200 containers which are all over the site. In 1992, there was an explosion which killed five people.

“When they started to clean those containers, some of those vessels hadn’t been touched for 15 years and they exploded. I fear that could happen again.

“We need to learn a lesson from that. The office block absorbed the fireball from that explosion but there’s no office block there now, it’s straight into Castleford town centre if it happened again.”

Freda Taylor, whose husband Dougie worked at the plan for 21 years and died from bladder cancer in 2001, has vowed to fight plans to build on the site.

Mrs Taylor, of Gallows Hill, Airedale, said: “I will do anything I can to stop it. In my opinion, if they build on that site, within 20 years children will come down with cancer.

“If you look at Hickson’s and how long it was going, how are they ever going to contain those chemicals? That land is a no-go site, nothing can ever be done on it. It will cause cancer.”

The council confirmed the whole of the Hickson site was part of the LDF and it would be consulting the HSE and Environment Agency.

Ian Thomson, service director for planning, said: “We are in discussions with the site owner on the ongoing decontamination of the site. The council is working to ensure it is carried out to an appropriate level.

“The council will be considering in due course an application to continue to store a limited amount of hazardous substances on site.”

Landowner Aeternum has been running tests on the soil since October 2007 and is expecting results next month. It has not conducted deep excavation yet.

A spokesman for the company said: “Since we took over the site it has been our primary focus to appoint the best experts to accurately assess the site, identify contaminants and develop a comprehensive remediation strategy.

“There are residual chemicals on the site which are currently being stored safely in the dedicated store that was built specifically for that purpose.

“A thorough plan is being developed to deal with these chemicals, working in conjunction with all the relevant authorities.

“There is nothing more important to us than safety, and the clean-up strategy will be the subject of full consultation with the local authority and national regulatory bodies.”