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October 19, 2011

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“Europe’s dirtiest factory” compensation trial begins

Around 300 individuals who allege that they suffered cancer and respiratory disease as a result of working at a former smokeless-fuel plant in south Wales have begun their fight for compensation through the courts.

The legal action, which had its opening hearing on 17 October in Cardiff, has been brought by hundreds of ex-workers and families of the Phurnacite plant at Abercwmboi, in Rhondda Cynon Taff, south Wales. The trial is expected to last for six weeks in total and will be transferred to the Royal Courts of Justice in London after three weeks.

The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), which has liability for British Coal, is fighting the claim. Along with National Smokeless Fuels Ltd, British Coal was responsible for the management of the plant at the time of its operation.

The claimants allege that working at the plant caused them to suffer lung, skin and bladder cancer, as well as respiratory disease. They suggest that British Coal failed to provide necessary protection for the workers from exposure to fumes at the plant and the inhalation of dust and fumes. They also allege that when protection was provided, it was too late and inadequate.

According to Hugh James Solicitors, which is representing the ex-workers and families, the Phurnacite Plant was once dubbed “the dirtiest factory in Europe”. It began operations in 1939 to produce briquettes from waste steam coal. The waste was crushed and mixed with pitch, before heat was used to remove most of the smoke content.

The factory was closed in 1991 and, in 2005, a £12.5m land-regeneration project saw more than 100,000 tonnes of contaminated waste removed from the site.

An earlier health-impact assessment of land-remediation options, carried out by Bro Taf Health Authority in 2003, said the carbonisation process used to produce the briquettes generated large amounts of gas, tar, ammonia, and other polycyclic hydrocarbons. The report went on: “The process was self-perpetuating, as the gas was used for heating tar tanks and for firing carbonisation ovens, which would generate more gas. Such processes are associated with a higher-than-expected incidence of cancer, particularly respiratory cancer, among workers.”
When contacted by SHP, a spokesperson for the DECC said it would be inappropriate for it to comment on an ongoing trial. A judgement is expected next year.

Approaches to managing the risks associated Musculoskeletal disorders

In this episode of the Safety & Health Podcast, we hear from Matt Birtles, Principal Ergonomics Consultant at HSE’s Science and Research Centre, about the different approaches to managing the risks associated with Musculoskeletal disorders.

Matt, an ergonomics and human factors expert, shares his thoughts on why MSDs are important, the various prevalent rates across the UK, what you can do within your own organisation and the Risk Management process surrounding MSD’s.

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12 years ago

I lived in the same valley as the coke plant and during misty or damp weather the entire valley would be filled with yellow sulphur smog. The acid within it corroded any aluminium and brass. My dad’s letter box had to be changed regularly due to corrosion.Spring and autumn were the worst times due to the smog hanging in the cold morning air.
I attended school across the road from the site as did thousands of others. We were kept infoors when the smoke blew. Expect more claims from the locals.