Online Archive  
Issue 4 - April 1972
There has been much concern shown recently by Seaham fishermen. This has been due to the tipping of coal refuse into the sea at Dawdon and Easington collieries. The years of tipping of this untreated waste has finally told. Now the waters in the area are blackened and this has discoloured the flesh of the male crabs which inhabit the waters all the year round. Now the migratory females are refusing to return to Seaham to mate because of the pollution. This is bad news indeed for the local fishermen.

The Seaham Boat Owners' Association is demanding the withdrawal of a permit allowing the NCB to tip in the sea. There is a ten mile stretch of coast affected by the tipping. Mr Jack Brennan, Chief Fisheries Officer for the North East sea fisheries committee says, "If something isn't done quickly the area could become a desert for marine life."

This had led the County Council Planning Committee to call on the Department of the Environment to ban the NCB from tipping waste in the area. The committee suggest that the waste should be dumped out at sea. They also have plans to spend £800,000 a year on cleaning up the Durham coast. But even if the NCB agreed to tip the waste out at sea this would surely still cause pollution in the area it was tipped and eventually this would be washed up on the beaches. So it seems even the alternative suggested by the CCPC if accepted would cause coastal pollution in the long run.

But we are told on the other hand that the situation isn't worth worrying about. Dr David Bellamy, a Durham University botanist, who has been studying the effect of pollution in the North Sea for 15 years accused the county planners of jumping onto the 'doomwatch' bandwagon. He said that few people wanted actually to swim in the North Sea and the money which it will cost to take the coal waste out to sea in barges could be spent on two or three heated swimming pools at Crimdon. He also said that the problems of coal waste tipping had been going on for many years. I only hope he realises it will continue to go on for many more years if something positive doesn't happen.

Not only is it the coast which is having pollution problems at the moment. There is a row brewing over what use is to be made of the disused coal mine at Silksworth. There has been a proposal put forward by Effluent Disposals Limited to see if the NCB will sell them Silksworth colliery so they can use it to dump up to 20 million gallons of chemical waste into it. This caused an outcry from the public who think that the tipping of toxic waste in a disused colliery in a built-up area could prove very dangerous. The colliery is also wanted by the Sunderland General Purposes Committee who also want to use it for a disposal scheme. The committee would have to balance job potential of the scheme with the resentment and hostility it would invoke with people, it was said by Town Clerk Mr J Gardner. He said expanding companies might come to the area if they knew there was a place here to dispose of such waste. He also added that similar projects to the one proposed at Silksworth were likely to be set up in various parts of the country.

When the public outcry was heard as regards the safety of such a scheme Effluent Disposals Limited called in a geological expert from Aston University. After a preliminary exploration of the colliery Dr William Gaskarth, the expert, said conditions "looked good" for dumping. He said there was minimum earth movement and as far as he could see the rocks were of sufficient strength to contain all pressures indefinitely. Not so easily satisfied was Dr Malcolm Hooper, head of research in pharmaceutical chemistry at Sunderland Polytechnic. He said he had discussed the matter with two expert geologists who did not accept the idea. He added that miles of gas and poisonous cyanide waste in a hole in the ground seems a very unrealistic and unscientific way of tackling a major industrial and social problem. He also said that the land movement which occurs from time to time could force the waste and toxic gases up through the strata into the water region and out into the atmosphere which could affect the environment not only of Silksworth and Sunderland but the whole of the north-east.

While the experts have been debating whether it is safe or not to use the colliery as a chemical dump the local people have formed the Silksworth Action Group to oppose any scheme to use the colliery as a chemical dump. There was a recent meeting to formalise the group and set up a committee. One of the speakers at the meeting, Mr Patrick Boyle, a mining engineer, said the only responsible action to take over Silksworth colliery was to fill the shafts with stones or otherwise the people of Silksworth would be living on a tomb. He asserted that the colliery was linked to the old workings at Herrington which would only spread the danger further. He said that past falls at Silksworth seams were followed by water coming in which came from Herrington Colliery via a hydraulic connection. He added it would be impossible to say how long it would take for poisonous waste to fill up Silksworth and then move upwards. Other speakers mentioned the possibility of dismantling the pit or picketing the shafts, if need be. Once the group is combined they want to make an impact where impact is needed most.

The NCB could possibly have the power to save a lot of trouble. They could stop dumping the coal waste into the sea and start tipping it into their own property at Silksworth. It would stop the sea pollution and stop chemical pollution at Silksworth. Presumably coal waste in the colliery would be a lot safer than toxic gases and chemicals. But seeing as the NCB aren't in the best of financial positions at present they'll be wanting to make as much money as possible out of the Silksworth deal.

The final decision as regards the colliery may end up in the hands of Peter Walker - Minister for the Environment - if no settlement can be agreed on. Also, the Deposit of Poisonous Waste Bill was given an unopposed second reading recently in the Commons and the Bill may have an influence on the matter too. The Bill lays down stiff penalties on dangerous dumping of up to 5 years. All's well that ends well?

Could someone please show me the way out of this smog?