Havering Council claims it needs six more months to assess the air quality of a Rainham site plagued by fires - despite knowing of “potential risks to human health” more than a decade ago.

The site, also known as Arnold's Fields, has been the location of regular blazes for years and the Mayor of London said London Fire Brigade was called to Launders Lane more than 100 times in 2022 alone.

In response to residents’ alarm about the health impacts of smoke, Havering Council began a year-long study of local air quality last summer.

Council leader Ray Morgon says the issue is “complex” due to issues of land ownership and that air quality monitoring needs to be carried out over a long period to give a “clear indication” of the risks to human health.

Romford Recorder: Firefighters at a blaze in Launders Lane last AprilFirefighters at a blaze in Launders Lane last April (Image: LFB)

However, a report obtained by the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) shows that Havering Council and the Environment Agency were warned of potential risks twelve years ago.

A survey of the site was carried out in 2011 after a police raid.

Based on 25 four-metre deep pits, surveyors estimated that “30,000 to 40,000 cubic metres” of unregulated waste had been dumped there.

They found evidence of substances that “could pose a risk to human health”, such as lead and benzo(a)pyrene, which is a large group of carcinogens.

They recommended further investigation and warned that people could be exposed through “inhalation, ingestion or skin contact”.

During the dig, surveyors noticed that snow around the holes was melting, suggesting decomposing waste was “warming the overlying ground”.

They added: “Recently landfilled sites included domestic and commercial waste including documents, wood, paper, glass, plastic, mattresses, pieces of furniture or equipment, cables, netting, clothing and other fabrics and occasional empty medical waste packaging.”

A more detailed analysis of one soil sample found sulphate, suggesting the waste “may not be suitable” to be moved to a legal landfill site.

London Fire Brigade staff are not allowed to enter the site due to concerns about explosions and falling into crevices.

Romford Recorder: Havering Council leader Ray MorgonHavering Council leader Ray Morgon (Image: Havering Council)

In July last year Cllr Morgon formed a working group with the Environment Agency, London Fire Brigade and MP Jon Cruddas to discuss the problem.

A scientific assessment of whether there is a “serious risk to public health” from air pollution was commissioned.

But ITV London reported in January that there is already an “unacceptable risk” to residents’ health.

During a nine-day study, a University College London team found that toxic PM2.5 pollution is 70 per cent higher in streets close to the site than in other parts of Rainham.

Mark Wheatley, a member of the Rainham Against Pollution steering group, told the LDRS: “It’s frightening what people are actually breathing in, but our council is saying they need a year.

“Last year was beyond unbearable, people are scared, the summer months are approaching and we don’t think we can physically go through this again."

The current landowner, DMC Services (Essex) Limited purchased the land for £440,000 in 2017.

Co-owner Jerry O’Donovan told the LDRS his company takes its responsibilities “very seriously” and claimed he has been “in dialogue” with Havering Council for a number of years.

However, Mr O'Donovan did not respond when asked whether he has any plans to make the land safer. 

The council spokesperson said there “would be scope” to consider legal action against DMC Services but acknowledged that the company “inherited” the issues rather than causing them.

They added: “The scope and options for action is subject to legal advice and the nature of risk posed by the site to the wider community, which is still being investigated, would form part of any decision on appropriate action to be taken.”

Cllr Morgon told the LDRS that before Havering can take any action, it needs to continue monitoring the air so it has a “clear indication” of what is happening on the land.

He added: “Some possible solutions could be costly, which would be challenging for us as we have had to make year-on-year savings to our annual council budget and still have to deliver vital services to our residents.

“However, this will not stop us from trying to find a way of solving this.”

A spokesperson for the Environment Agency told the LDRS that it deals with fly-tipping reports on a “case-by-case” basis but added that Havering is the “lead authority” for regulating activity at Launders Lane.

They added: “The Environment Agency absolutely recognises the level of concern of local residents, which is why we have attended the site many times to reduce harm to the local community and the environment.”

The site was used for gravel and sand extraction until the late 1990s.