For generations Hartlepool people have made their living from the sea as fishermen, deepwater sailors or working at the port. In recent years, however, residents living on the historic town wall, who are closest to the water front, have become concerned about possible health implications of the port’s operations.
A member of the Town Wall Action Group, spoke out at a recent public meeting attended by the local authority, port operators and ship owners. “Dust from the port covers our homes and cars every time a ship is being loaded,” he explained. “It discolours window frames and eats holes in the paintwork of our cars. God knows what it’s doing to people who breathe it in?”
Irvines Quay is the area of the port being blamed for the problems. The quay is used for loading bulk carrier ships that take crushed scrap for recycling. Some of the scrap is stored under cover but large piles are left exposed to the weather on the quayside. When lifted by grab crane these piles produce clouds of dust, which is spread by prevailing winds over homes on the Hartlepool Headland. It is this dust that is causing health fears amongst residents.
The local authority, under the Environmental Protection Act 1990, regulates any nuisance from a port, including the loading and unloading of cargos. The Port Operator stresses it complies with all appropriate health and safety regulations and has been licensed by the local council.
The company loading the ships has funded an independent laboratory to carry out monitoring of the operation. This monitoring identified that the dust contains mainly iron oxide (rust) but also with traces of titanium, nickel and heavy metals. The analysis showed the levels detected are within the permissible health and safety limits for these substances set by the UK Environment Agency.
The Tees Valley Public Health Authority were asked to reassure the Headland residents that there was no evidence of unusual health problems in patients registered with the GP’s Practice in the in the area. An analysis, by the Chief Public Health Consultant, Professor Peter Kelly, of 4,000 medical records showed no significant statistical increase in liver problems or skin complaints, these being the two conditions most commonly associated with metals contamination. “I found that in terms of heath deprivation the Headland is not significantly different from the overall Hartlepool average.” said Professor Kelly at the public meeting. Professor Kelly did then agree that a further study should be undertaken, to look at levels of cancers in the area affected by the dust.
During the heated public meeting correspondence about the issue was produced that went back over 20 years. Local Councillors demanded that the Borough Council needed to do something about these problems. “It is well past time that these operations were shut down once and for all! “said one Councillor.
Residents were not reassured by the results of the meeting. There are still very real and unaddressed fears that a long term health problem is building up.
While waiting for the results on the cancers study the campaigners are compiling a dossier of evidence from people in the Headland area who think they have been affected by this dust problem. “Everyone should ensure their problems are included in the dossier” said a local campaigner “We are taking this right to the top, all the way to Downing Street if necessary. We are not going to just let it drop for another 20 years!”