Dangerous dust issues in Avonmouth must be resolved, say locals


Despite promising to convene a public meeting to discuss potentially dangerous wood dust in the Avonmouth area, local and national politicians are dragging their feet, according to residents.

Woodchip Dust

The current situation is "disgraceful", said one man who declined to be identified.

"This is a public issue and a meeting should be open and transparent. This should be a public forum and a public discussion. The meeting has been promised for a long time and this is not good enough."

The concerns follow 2 years of complaints about dust produced by port businesses, some of which process wood. Residents have claimed that the dust, samples of which have tested positive for toxic substances such as arsenic and formaldehyde, frequently settles on their vehicles and homes, constituting a health hazard.

A public meeting in which the issue could be discussed by public health authorities and local leaders was promised almost 2 months ago by Charlotte Leslie, MP for Bristol North West, and Doug Naysmith, an Avonmouth councillor.

However, according to residents no such meeting has yet been set up.

Christine Chard, who lives near the dockside site, said she has heard nothing about a meeting, fearing any discussion on the matter might be held behind closed doors.

"We would not be happy for it to be in private," Ms Chard said. "This affects the whole of our community, including businesses, so it should be an open meeting."

The politicians have stressed their wish to resolve the situation. According to Ms Leslie, a meeting is still planned for mid-May, with some residents expected to be invited to discuss the issues with Environment Agency (EA) officials. Public forum updates will follow.

The MP claimed it had been difficult to pin down all interested parties to the same date.

"It is essential that it takes place," Ms Leslie said. "We must sort out this issue, which leaves residents scraping dust from their windscreens, and get to the bottom of what the substance is and where it comes from."

However Mr Naysmith said that, despite his best efforts, only a private, officials-only meeting was likely. He added that he aims to convene officials at an Avonmouth Neighbourhood Forum on 13 May.

"I will be trying to get a port representative to come to the public forum to help explain the progress. This is a long-running saga and everybody wants a solution."

According to the EA, only 1 firm still operates on the site of the 3 which process wood, and that the dangerous dust issues in the docks area had "largely been resolved".

Since complaints began, a wood processing firm, Boomeco, has relocated to an Avonmouth warehouse due to its former site being "too exposed" for its work. And Bristol City Council said that since wood processing is not believed to be taking place nearby, the origin of the dangerous dust is unclear.

In 2012 the EA failed in its attempt to prosecute a director of the wood processor EGNI over dust which residents believed had contributed to a rise in colds and coughs.

Emma Costin, Head of Industrial Disease at Simpson Millar comments: “Wood dust is known to be hazardous to respiratory health and can cause permanent disablement. It is particularly dangerous to the young, infirm and elderly. This is not new information, the hazards posed by dust have been known for at least 50 years. Our concern as legal representatives of victims of dust diseases is the very low agenda given by the government to issues of health and safety in the workplace and in the environment."

"We are pleased to hear that Charlotte Leslie is getting involved in this particular local issue however we fear that in the name of cutting red tape and helping employers and the insurance industry in particular, that this government merely pays lip service to the concerns of people in Avonmouth and others like them. This government will be judged by its actions in the area of health and safety, and people will note that the ability of injured people to access legal advice and obtain proper compensation has been severely restricted by recent changes to the civil justice system and costs that Ken Clarke and latterly Chris Grayling have imposed."

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