2014 update: Please note that this page, along with many on the site was originally written in 2009 and some of the effects of the landfill have changed in that time. RATS have decided to leave it as it is though as an archived record of what the people of Houghton-le-Spring have suffered over the years.
Houghton Quarry Landfill causes all kinds of problems for the residents of Houghton, visitors to the town and the thousands of drivers who pass through the town every day. Below is a list of dangers and complaints highlighted by RATS and local residents. Click on the links for more information and pictures.
1. It’s close to peoples’ houses. In their original application for a licence to dump waste there, Biffa repeatedly claim that the quarry is 1KM north of Houghton and there are no houses within 500 metres. There are actually several hundred houses within 500 metres of the quarry. Also, approximately 21,000 vehicles drive past on the A690 each day (in 1998) which passes right by the South West side of the Quarry.
2. It sits deep within our water supply. The quarry floor is, depending on groundwater levels, sometimes several metres below the water table. This means that any leachate or other things that escape from the bottom of the quarry can get right into our water supply. Polluting the groundwater is against European Law. The EA recognises it was never designed for that purpose and have stated 'will not perform well in that situation'.
3. It’s allowed to accept all kinds of waste. The site is allowed to accept domestic, commercial and industrial waste. We’re not allowed to know exactly what is being dumped there because Biffa claims it’s “commercially sensitive” The permit for the quarry allows asbestos, lead, animal faeces and tissue waste, sulphur, medical waste and hexavalent chromium to be dumped there.
4. It’s polluting the groundwater. There are several boreholes around the quarry to monitor the ground water. These were specifically put in round the site to do that. Biffa are responsible for monitoring these boreholes and passing the information on to the Environment Agency. The readings Biffa take regularly show that the water samples are polluted. The Environment Agency has blamed just about everything else it can think of for these readings. Where else could the pollution come from?
5. It’s polluting the air. Biffa are also obliged to provide samples from gas monitoring boreholes around the quarry. These samples often show carbon dioxide and methane at several times the permitted levels (sometimes as high as thirty times the permitted levels)
6. It stinks! The residents of Houghton regularly suffer from the stench of landfill. This is both escaping gas and the smell from deposited waste fequently not covered properly. There are gas burning engines in the quarry which are supposed to deal with the landfill gas, but they are clearly not enough. Residents of Houghton often can’t open their windows because it lets the stench into their houses.
7. It attracts vermin. Countless gulls, flies and rats plague the residents of Houghton on a daily basis. It’s not uncommon for a resident of Newbottle or Grasswell to come home to find a dozen flies buzzing lazily around their house. 40% of gull deaths are attributed to botulism from feeding from landfill sites.
8. The waste mountain is too high. “Mount Biffa” is nowhere like the hight and shape it should be. The site has to be filled and landscaped to the same shape it was before landfilling started. Obviously the waste settles and Biffa have submitted plans to show the site before it settles, but the EA know full well that the majority of settlement takes place in the first 2000 days (5.5 years). Most of that has now happened, but both the EA and Sunderland City Council continue to allow Biffa to 'top this up', so it will never settle to the required shape. Of course when this happens Biffa will claim they cannot alter it as it will create smells, noise and disturbance to the resesidents. How thoughtfull of them!
9. It creates a mess and a risk on the roads. Hundreds of 44 tonne trucks trundle through Houghton every day. This causes noise, pollution and a danger to local traffic. Mud and dust from the site regularly wash down on to the A182, which is the main road through Houghton. This mud makes residents’ cars dirty and splashes pedestrians. Of course when it's dry, god only knows what pedestrians are breathing in as they walk past. The police claim they cannot do anything about the road as Biffa have 4 hours to clean up any mud as a permit condition. The EA permit places Biffa above the law!
10. The quarry sits on very unstable ground. A leading geologist once described Houghton Quarry as “A perfect example of where NOT to put a landfill” There are six fully worked coal seams under the quarry as well as two major geological faults, which pass either side of the quarry and several 'branch' faults, some which are evident in the quarry. The liner could not withstand any significant ground movement and would fail, releasing toxic waste into the ground water.
11. Litter. Litter regularly blows out of the site and causes a nuisance for local wildlife as well as local residents and drivers on the A690. After much pressure from RATS the EA finally tried to take Biffa to court, only to pull out at the last minute when Biffa insisted one of the EA officers who attended the site to wittness the huge amount of litter blowing out of the site. RATS were rightly annoyed and asked the EA why had the second EA officer not given evidence only to be told he had left the EA and began a new job – as assistant manager of Houghton Quarry Landfill!
12. It's a fire hazard. There have been several fires in the tip over the years - at least three that we know about. At one of the larger fires residents were told by the authorities that there was no danger from the huge clouds of smoke coming from the site, but they did not know what was burning, so how could they possibly say that?. Biffa are always quick to blame fires on intruders and vandals. If that is true surely the site is not secure.
13. The people of Houghton Le Spring don't want it. In 2008, the Environment Agency spent £12,000 of public money to conduct a survey in Houghton Le Spring to see if RATS' concerns were representitive of the local people. 752 people were interviewed and the survey proved conclusively that the residents of Houghton do agree with us and have serious concerns over the tip.