HC Deb 09 March 1972 vol 832 cc385-7W
51. Mr. Arthur Davidson

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what advice his Department gave to the Rishton Urban District Council with regard to the finding of cyanide drums on a tip in Rishton.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

The Department made inquiries of the council about the finding of drums which had contained cyanide on a site called Star Delph Quarry but was told that no help or advice was needed. The council, the Lancashire River Authority and the police have all taken prompt and responsible action.

Mr. Leslie Huckfield

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment whether he will consider in his forthcoming legislation making the disposal of toxic chemical waste materials the responsibility of those companies initially supplying such chemicals.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

My right hon. Friend has already made known the broad outlines of his proposals for dealing with the problem of toxic waste disposal.

Mr. Arthur Davidson

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment how many instances of cyanide dumping on refuse tips, public and private, have come to his notice to date; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

The number of recent cases involving the possible dumping of cyanide waste which have come to my Department's notice to date is 29, of which 18 involve private tips and seven involve local authority tips. Four related to other land. In 19 of these cases local authorities consulted or informed my Department, which learned of the remainder from private individuals and from Press reports. My Department is always ready to give advice where it is required, and such advice was given to the 12 authorities which requested it. Reports of the dumping of cyanide waste proved in some instances to be unfounded.

In some cases cyanide waste has been dumped on refuse tips over a period of years. Wherever there was reason for concern, local authorities and river authorities have taken steps to discover whether there is any physical danger to the public or risk of contamination of water supplies.

A refuse tip has some capacity for detoxifying cyanide wastes. It is known that oxidation of cyanide occurs in certain bacteriological processes, and it is to be expected that a similar action may take place on industrial tips under aerobic conditions. In the interior of a tip, anaerobic conditions obtain where other chemical reactions may occur.

Heavy metals are always present on refuse tips, and in the presence of these metals, cyanides are complexed to less toxic substances and precipitated as insoluble compounds which cannot leach from the tip.