Havering Council's leader has vowed to take enforcement action if there is a "serious risk" to public health as it rolls out a series of new measures to tackle fires at Launders Lane in Rainham.

Blazes have been breaking out at Arnolds Field for years, with London Fire Brigade revealing last July that it had attended more than 70 fires in Launders Lane since 2018.

Hundreds of residents gathered at La Salette Catholic Social Club last July to air their concerns

The Recorder has previously spoken to locals including a mother who said her young daughter had suffered “chest infections, breathing trouble and sinus problems”

“It stinks and we don’t know if it’s pollen or the smoke from the fire, but if it’s alight it’s hard to breathe and your throat becomes so dry,” she said. 

Cllr Ray Morgon, leader of Havering Council, has previously said part of the issue in resolving the problems at Launders Lane was due to a change in landowners. 

A working group has been set up, including Dagenham and Rainham MP Jon Cruddas, councillors, council officers, the Environment Agency (EA) and London Fire Brigade. 

Early initiatives including improving air measuring devices and seeking advice from experts on remedial work for the contaminated land were agreed upon. 

However, a recent investigation by ITV and University College London found that, over the course of nine days, “levels of one potentially toxic type of pollution were 70 per cent higher in surrounding streets compared to the rest of Rainham”. 

The investigation added that measurements of PM2.5, a tiny particulate matter which may cause cancer, lung and heart disease, and strokes, were three times higher than recommended limits by the World Health Organisation. 

Dr Elizabeth Cooper, from UCL, said: “If these levels are truly staying this high or higher then I think it’s an unacceptable risk in the community.” 

Following the ITV report, Cllr Morgon said he “would like to reassure residents the council is continuing to do all we can to find a solution to this problem”. 

As part of the group, Cllr Morgon said the council has commissioned the Environmental Research Group (ERG), part of Imperial College London, “to install additional air quality monitors to measure levels of particulate matter in the air. 

"In total, we will have five monitors forming a ring around the site. Initial data from the three existing monitors show pollution levels (in the absence of any fires) to be ‘low’, or 1-2 on a scale of 1-10, where 1 is low and 10 high.” 

Romford Recorder: Cllr Ray Morgon, leader of Havering CouncilCllr Ray Morgon, leader of Havering Council (Image: Havering Council)

He said that while the ITV findings only covered nine days, the working group wants to monitor the site for much longer, to take in a full year so it can "get a full and accurate picture of exactly what is happening”. 

A second contractor will also be hired to look at the emissions in more detail. 

Cllr Morgon said: “The council understands the concern of residents and is committed to doing a thorough assessment of any risks to health. 

"If there is found to be a serious risk to public health – we will use our enforcement powers to force the owners of this private land to take action. 

"If necessary – we will also be calling on the government and mayor of London to step in.  

“We appreciate this has been an ongoing issue for a number of years. I have made a promise to treat this as a key priority. 

"And while it is not going to be quick or easy to address we will do all we can to try and get a solution.” 

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Mr Cruddas, who is part of the working group, said he initially brought up the issue of underground fires on Arnolds Field more than three years ago.

He said that the new Havering Residents Association/Labour administration “to their credit...has tried to get a grip with the issue”. 

He added he wants a solution reached to prevent the recurrence of these "damaging" fires.