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.
Residents of Houghton, Grasswell and Newbottle are regularly plagued with the horrible stench from the quarry. The smell isn’t just limited to these areas. The smell regularly gets as far as Doxford Park, which is over two miles away.
Of course, we can’t photograph the smell or take video footage of it. However, if you look at the picture below, which shows dust billowing out of the tip, you can imagine how easily the smell can spread:
To get an idea of the scale of the problem though, we suggest you look at the RATS Facebook Page and see just how many people have made complaints about it.
Sometimes this smell is in the form of landfill gas. This is created when the waste in the tip begins to decay. All landfill sites produce this and it’s usually easy to deal with. Normally the gas is either burned off with a high temperature flare or burned off using special engines making electricity in the process. Houghton Quarry Landfill has both of these, as well as smell suppression sprays around the perimeter of the site. Despite these measures, the smell still regularly escapes.
I should also point out that residents opposed the engines due to concerns over noise. The opposition was dismissed after a noise survey (paid for by Biffa) saying that the difference would be marginal. The engines now prevent people in Newbottle from sleeping with their windows open as the noise is too loud – it’s like having a large lorry idling outside your window.
Other times, Biffa fail to cover up the waste that’s just been dumped. Imagine what your wheelie bin would smell like if you left the lid open on a hot day and you’re somewhere near the smell that the residents of Houghton have to endure on a regular basis. The EA are supposed to regulate Biffa and make them take “appropriate measures” to prevent the smell escaping. Whatever these measures are, they aren’t appropriate enough!
It's uncovered rubbish such as this that can cause a smell:
In late 2009/early 2010, Biffa had to dig into the waste mountain to repair a liner that was leaking. This also caused a major nuisance to residents. Here's a picture of this - looks lovely, doesn't it?
How does the smell affect residents?
It may sound like a small matter in the grand scheme of things, but many people can’t leave their windows open because the smell gets into their house. Surely everyone has a right to be able to open their window and not have their home invaded by the smell from a toxic waste dump? The smell also stops people enjoying their gardens and is very embarrassing to explain when visitors comment on it.
In some cases, the smell can actually get into peoples’ houses even when all their doors and windows are closed. Why should Biffa be allowed to to do this to residents?
The smell is also affecting business in Houghton Town Centre. Many people now refuse to shop there because of the smell. Local businesses are suffering and people have been spotted getting out of their cars to do some shopping, only to take one sniff of the air and get back in their cars and drive away.
One more sinister question to ask about the smell is: If the smell can escape, what else can escape?