Ealing Council Accused of Environmental Injustice in Southall

Campaigners say Waterside scheme health risks continue to be underestimated

Campaigners have their say on Southall Waterside scheme

Ealing Council has been accused of “failing the people of Southall” over the controversial Southall Waterside site which residents claim has been affecting their health for years.

Borough leader Julian Bell and Southall MP Virendra Sharma were hit with the allegations in an online public meeting (Thursday, July 16) running high with emotion as the community demanded action and answers in what is being done to protect them from “environmental injustice”.

Campaigners from the Clean Air for Southall and Hayes (CASH) group formed in 2018 following reports from residents of headaches, vomiting, nausea and serious illnesses such as cancer believed to be directly linked to a petrol and “tar-like” odour coming from the 88-acre former Gasworks site.

The July 16 meeting organised by CASH demanded for phase two of the development – expected to begin this winter – not to go ahead without independent air quality monitoring and for Ealing Council to conduct a “proper investigation” into its impact on peoples’ health.

It’s been revealed that since 2017, 250 complaints have been received by Ealing Council relating to the site.

The community has disputed findings from Public Health England, which across multiple reports detailed that it was unlikely there was a direct toxicological risk to the long-term health of neighbours to the site.

Ealing Council Accused of Not Listening to BAME Residents
CASH campaigners say 'Stop poisoning Southall'.

Currently, air quality monitoring data is carried out by a consultant commissioned by developer Berkeley Group, who sees the reports first before being sent to Ealing Council.

Doubts over transparency were discussed at the meeting, with Greater London Authority member for Ealing and Hillingdon, Dr Onkar Sahota, warning the process raises a question of “lack of credibility”.

“The symptoms of patients are real. Our frame of work is how do we start explaining what is happening to our population? We need independent monitoring of the air quality. We knew from day one the site was contaminated, we knew it was a gas work site petroleum base for a long time,” he said.

Chemicals such as benzene, naphthalene and 4-isopropyltoluene were found in the soil before the development started, and work was completed to treat the ground by March 2019.

CASH member Joginder Bhangu added: “This development is projected to last for more than two decades. Our families [are] suffering and we’re not going to go away. We will continue to do everything in our power to stop this environmental injustice and hold those responsible accountable.”

Council leader Julian Bell said the authority will begin air quality monitoring through an independent consultant from August, and will await Public Health England’s (PHE) latest report, likely to be shared in the next two weeks, before knowing what steps can be taken.

Cllr Bell said: “In terms of being able to guarantee that the works for the second phase can’t go ahead, I’m not in a position to give that guarantee. It depends on what the PHE fourth report says.

“If there’s evidence there we would issue an abatement notice for a statutory nuisance, then we will do so, but if the evidence is not there then we don’t have the power to stop the second phase of the development going forward.”

He added: “I, like you, am very unhappy about this situation but it seems we don’t have the powers.”

Co-director of the Centric Lab, Araceli Camargo, has completed a three-month study on the Southall Waterside impact which was commissioned by CASH.

She said the impact of poverty on health has not been considered by Public Health England which is “incredibly significant”.

“It is very widely studied that people that come from impoverished backgrounds, they don’t need as much toxins to get sick. In other words, air pollution or toxins are more poisonous to them than a system [body] which is healthier,” she said.

Mr Sharma wrote to campaigners following the meeting that he agreed work should stop until the risk to health had been disproven, and backed calls for independent monitoring of air quality through Ealing Council. This, he said, however should be paid for by Berkeley Homes.

He also noted that between Ealing Council, Public Health England and the Environment Agency “there is not a clear line of accountability between the three, they all have slightly separate areas of responsibility which lets things fall between the cracks.”

The MP and Ealing Council both opposed the development in the local area and despite attempts to block it, the decision was overturned by then-mayor of London Boris Johnson in 2010.

Cllr Bell agreed to speak to Berkeley Group about monitoring data being sent directly to the council and welcomed that as a step forward.

But some participants of the meeting were left unsatisfied with cllr Bell’s contributions.

Angela Fonso, a CASH campaigner, said: “What is going on is a clear example of environmental racism and I find disappointing some of your answers tonight.”

Responding to the meeting, Professor Kevin Fenton, Public Health England’s London regional director told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “Air pollution can be harmful to everyone but some people are more affected because they are exposed to higher levels of air pollution in their day-to-day lives, they live in a polluted area, or are more vulnerable to the harm caused by air pollution.

“Air pollution has been identified as a public health concern for London and cleaner air is one of PHE’s priorities over the next five years to both protect people and help people to live longer in good health.

“The Southall Waterside air quality data provided to PHE has been compared to a variety of available health based air quality guidelines, standards and assessment levels for the detected chemicals. These guidelines are selected to protect all groups of people, provide goals to improve air quality and reduce potential health impacts.

“The results from our assessments show that there is unlikely to be a risk to the long-term health of the nearby population from the chemicals detected and we are continuing to work with Ealing Council, the Environment Agency and the community to provide public health advice and support.”

The Berkeley Group was contacted for comment.

Anahita Hossein-Pour - Local Democracy Reporter

July 21, 2020