Experts have recently warned that many landfill sites in the UK are at risk of leaking hazardous chemicals into our waterways as flooding and coastal erosion become more commonplace. The threat has even been dubbed ‘a toxic time bomb’.
Recent research has revealed that 1,264 landfill sites are located in coastal areas and estuaries at risk of erosion in the UK, with a further 2,946 landfill sites located in flood plains. With climate change bringing more storms causing flooding and coastal erosion, there is a real risk that harmful substances from these landfill sites could end up in our waterways.
EU waste regulations stipulate that landfill sites need to have an insulating, protective lining to avoid leaching dangerous substances; however, research indicates that there are thousands of sites in areas at risk of flooding that don’t have the protective lining, as they pre-date the introduction of the EU regulations. Even sites that are protected by flood defences may not be able to withstand the extreme weather that is becoming more commonplace, increasing the risk of chemicals getting washed into our sea.
Evidence of this is already occurring. Coastal erosion has washed away the clay walls of an old landfill site near Dublin, exposing 200 metres of the dumpsite and rubbish at the foot of the cliffs. A village in Essex has also been the victim of erosion, which has resulted in waste hanging out of the side of a riverbank.
Environmental groups are working to assess which landfill sites are most at risk so that the problem can be managed better, especially as our climate changes.
If you visit an affected coastal area, take some precautions. Check the tide times and take heed of any warning signs. Avoid entering the water after a storm or flooding.