Weatherwatch: storms can unlock pollution timebombs of landfill | Environment

Britain’s coasts were battered in this winter’s storms. The Royal North Devon Golf Club, England’s oldest golf course, had a sizeable chunk of its eighth hole washed away during Storm Eleanor in January. Less well publicised were fears of flooding at a nearby landfill site, which was last used in 1995 and contains hospital waste and other toxic material.

Disused landfill sites buried along Britain’s coastlines are pollution timebombs. There are an estimated 1,264 old landfill sites dotted along coastlines in England and Wales that could be vulnerable to flooding from rising sea levels and storms.

Many of these old dumps are becoming increasingly vulnerable to breaking open, and one old dump in East Tilbury on the Thames Estuary has already eroded, with layers of rubbish sticking out of a muddy bank and strewn along the foreshore.

Particularly alarming is that before the mid-1990s, rubbish dumps had few or no restrictions about what could be dumped in them, and little is known about what they contain. Many were sited on estuaries close to large cities, such as Liverpool, London and Newcastle, and some were used to raise land levels and even formed part of flood defences.