Residents in the Ribble Valley have raised concerns about air pollution levels in one of their towns which they claim are being made worse by a cement works.
Luke Tyrell, who lives in Clitheroe claims that Hanson Cement, previously Castle Cement, on West Bradford Road, is pumping nitrogen oxide into the atmosphere and ‘poisoning’ the area.
Mr Tyrell, who lives close to Bawdlands, said the issue had been ongoing for more than a decade, with thick black smoke coming from the cement works being ‘passed off as steam’ by bosses of the company.
He said: “Last month the smoke coming from their chimneys was black. It’s being debated by many people in the town yet Hanson claim only steam comes out.”
In 2000, Hanson Cement, then known as Castle Cement, was fined a total of £45,000 with £74,600 in costs at Lancaster Crown Court, over fumes from its Ribblesdale works.
The company pleaded guilty to three offences relating to the haze and odour condition of its operating authorisation.
The authorisation was issued by the Environment Agency, which brought the prosecution after complaints of odour in the area in the summer of 1999.
The Environment Agency told the court that it believed sulphur dioxide to be most responsible for the fumes and asserted that Castle Cement was not pro-active in ensuring compliance with the haze and odour condition, choosing instead to maximise production.
Five years prior to this, high levels of asthma in children in the Ribble Valley were blamed on Cemfuel in an independent study by retired GP, Dr Dick Van Steenis – who told a meeting of Cemfuel campaigners that the explanation for the high rate was air pollution from the Castle Cement plant.
Mr Tyrell said: “I was born with asthma, I still have it. And when I go on holiday, even within the UK, my asthma near enough vanishes.
“But not one person who was forced to breathe these fumes for years received any justice. Not even an apology from Castle Cement.”
In 2010, Ribble Valley Borough Council declared an area of Whalley Road as an Air Quality Management Area (AQMA) due to the high levels of nitrogen dioxide NO2.
While the source of poor air quality was declared as ‘road transport unspecified’, many people living in the town say the fumes from the cement works travel across the whole area including surrounding villages.
Six years later, in 2016, residents around Waddington Road demanded answers from the cement works after an unknown substance was sticking to their cars and the windows of their home, and needed professional cleaning to remove.
Hanson Cement was then identified, in 2018, as the source of 733 tonnes of NOx, 355 tonnes of sulphur dioxide and 15.8 tonnes of particulate matter in Lancashire County Council’s National Atmospheric Emissions Inventory.
The inventory illustrated that the total amount of such emissions produced across the county were localised around major motorway junctions, in particular the M6/M55/M61 interchange and the M65.
The exception to this was in the Ribble Valley – despite the area having no major trunk roads or junctions that matched the volume of traffic seen on roads mentioned above.
The inventory stated: “Hanson Cement Works continues to be a major source of NOx and SO2, although the operators use a ‘wet gas scrubber’ which may ameliorate the level of these emissions.
“In 2018 there were 732 tonnes of NOx and 355 tonnes of SO2 directly attributed to the works.
“By way of comparison, there are two other cement works around England responsible for over 1,000 tonnes one of which, the Hope cement works in Derbyshire emitted 2,609 tonnes of NOx and 1,881 tonnes of SO2 while the Cemex plant at Rugby, also emitted 1,760 tonnes of NOx.”
Nitrogen oxides (NOx) contribute to acid rain by mixing with water particles to form nitric acid, to the depletion of the ozone layer and have detrimental effects on health.
They are also greenhouse gases and high emission levels in the county were associated with urban areas and the main road networks.
Nitrogen oxides are generated by many types of combustion, irrespective of which fuel is being combusted.
Hanson Cement refute the claims and say smoke visible from the chimneys is water vapour.
Plant manager, Gary Young, said: “Following routine maintenance work there was an issue with a diesel control valve which came to light on restarting the kiln at our Ribblesdale Cement works on March 17, 2021.
“This was a one-off and isolated incident and the fault was quickly addressed.
“As part of our standard protocols it was also referred to the Environment Agency which has taken no further action.
“Safety and environmental performance remain key priorities and our operations at the plant continue to be well within permitted levels.
“Ribblesdale is one of just two cement plants in the UK to utilise a gas cleaning system which cuts emissions, making it one of the most environmentally friendly kilns in the country.
“The system installed as part of the multimillion-pound upgrade uses a significant amount of water in the cleaning process and it is water vapour – or steam – that is visible from the stack.”