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Queen Mary research exposes coastal landfill time bomb

A new report published today by the Local Government Association (LGA) Coastal Special Interest Group (SIG) warns of “hidden silent ticking time bombs” presented by coastal landfill sites around England, supporting recent research from Professor Kate Spencer in Queen Mary’s School of Geography.

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Professor Kate Spencer’s work revealed that many landfills on the coast of England are at risk of flooding and erosion, which could put 30% of protected coastline and bathing water catchments at risk of contamination. 

In the new report, 26 coastal councils note some landfill sites already spilling large amounts of waste onto cliffs and beaches, with significant gaps in understanding of what waste is present within these sites. Three-quarters of coastal landfills are located next to at least one environmentally designated site, creating potential for many more problems in future.

Kate Spencer, Professor of Environmental Geochemistry at Queen Mary University of London, said: “Our work has shown that legacy landfills contain a variety of waste materials and pollutants that could have a significant impact on the coastal environment if the sites are flooded by sea water or erode. 

“For many coastal landfills the best approach may be to maintain coastal defences, but we also need to develop sustainable approaches to remediate, relocate or recycle landfilled waste. This will all require significant funding.” The report found that some coastal councils estimated the costs of work needed to protect the environment would be over £30 million at each landfill site. 

While the new report has reignited discussions with Defra around the issue, the LGA Coastal SIG and CGN welcome collaborative opportunities to work together on finding long-term solutions.

Councillor Ernest Gibson, Chair of the LGA Coastal SIG, commented: “Pollution events are happening today and so we, the LGA Coastal SIG, are seeking to explore with councils and government where potential relaxation to funding rules might allow for any identified underspend to be redirected to allow councils to deal with the problems we are facing now. Therefore, we invite government to contact us on this as a matter of urgency.”

Mark Stratton, Coastal Manager at Coastal Partners and Officer Lead for Coastal Landfill at the LGA Coastal SIG, added: “There are hundreds of coastal landfill sites at risk of tidal flooding and erosion. During visits to sites, I have been overwhelmed by the scale of the problem especially the threat of waste eroding or leaching out onto the often-designated natural coastal environment. I truly hope that this matter gets the attention from government that it deserves to avoid environmental catastrophe.”

Read more about Professor Spencer’s coastal landfill research work

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