TOXIC waste dumped across swathes of Clydeside poses “immediate and long-term risks to human health”, politicians have been told.

Officials have long known massive concentrations of cancer-causing Chromium-VI - the poison made famous by the Hollywood movie Erin Brockovich - were buried under Glasgow and South Lanarkshire.

READ MORE: Polmadie Burn: Tens of millions needed to clean up 'Brockovich' disaster 

Now, in an unusually blunt briefing to MPs, MSPs and councillors, executives at regeneration agency Clyde Gateway have confirmed the deposits are leaching in to the west of Scotland’s river system “whenever it rains”.

They stressed, “the nature of the contamination poses immediate or long-term risks to human health and the environment through land, surface water or groundwater pollution”.

HeraldScotland:

Shawfield, from the air

The report, which was obtained by The Herald, was distributed after an entire stream, the Polmadie Burn, turned bright green last month in a telltale symptom of toxic pollution from waste containing chromium-VI, chromium ore processing residue or COPR. Its authors make clear this was a wake-up call.

They said: “A stark reminder of the all-too-real dangers to public health from the presence of COPR at Shawfield was provided in February 2019 with an incident at Polmadie Burn.”

Read the Shawfield remediation report in full 

This frank language contradicts reassurances given to residents of the new-build scheme next to the burn, Oatlands. A spokesman for the local community council earlier this month told this newspaper: “Glasgow City Council have advised that there is no risk to public health unless the contaminated water is directly ingested or comes into contact with skin.”

HeraldScotland:

Clear signs of Chromium pollution in culverts under Shawfield. Picture: Clyde Gateway

Clyde Gateway and local authorities are working to stop pollution entering the Polmadie Burn by re-routeing underground rivers.

However, they do not have the resources to deal with the poison at source, in nearby Shawfield.

This is the site of J&J White Chemicals, a giant factory which shut half a century ago after years of dumping COPR in pits and quarries around Glasgow and Lanarkshire.

But new research suggests the firm - whose owners are no longer around to pay for what would now be considered a major environmental crime - dumped extensively on their own doorstep.

The new report contains the first pictures of an underground network of rivers in Shawfield. Taken this month, these show water running almost fluorescent jungle green through culverts.

HeraldScotland:

Flooding at Richmond Park, early 2000s. Picture: Clyde Gateway

Earlier this month Clyde Gateway said it lacked “tens of millions” to clean up the site. Now its private document predicts a bill of £54m, including the cost of compulsory purchase orders to remove some of the current landowners.

Clyde Gateway does not have this money. 

The report said: “There can be no argument that without intervention by the public sector, of which Clyde Gateway is currently the main vehicle, market failure will remain.

“Sites will not be capable of development, but just as crucially, the contamination will continue to blight communities and pose a health issue for local residents.”

It added: “In short, when it rains in Shawfield, there are accelerated flows of hexavalent chromium into the tributaries and the Clyde – this can only be prevented by converting it to trivalent chromium which is not carried by any groundwater and will this not flow.”

Clyde Gateway has successfully detoxified Chromium-polluted sites. It cleared an area it calls Phase One between the Shawfield stadium and the Clyde now renamed Magenta, a business park.

That work was carried out with the help of local councils, the Scottish Government and the European Union as part of a £27m regeneration programme.

This saw Chromium-VI - sometimes called hexavalent Chromium - turned in to harmless Chromium-III thanks to the injection of expensive chemicals.

Contractors carried out some 6000 injections of calcium polysulphide, at depths of up to six metres, to neutralise almost all of the poison.

Clyde Gateway has similar plans to use the same technology in its Shawfield Phase 2, the 29-hectare site of J&J White. So far it has only planned a £5m spend on a 2.5-hectare portion of the site, much of which is in private ownership.

HeraldScotland:

Water running green in March 2019. Picture: Clyde Gateway

However, the agency's document suggests that even it gets all the funding it needs remediation work could extend well beyond 2024. This is because of the time needed to acquire land, either through negotiation or compulsory purchase, and secure planning and other permissions.

The report underlines that the Chromium-VI problem with pollution has been known about since the 1990s.

Sharing pictures of discoloured flooding from the early 2000s, it said: "The issue of contamination gained prominence some 25 years after the factory closure and demolition when surveys carried out on nearby playing fields, which were due to be the location for a nursing home, revealed dangerously high levels of COPR, with a link made to the disposal practices at J & J White.

"The COPR were also found to be impacting on the water table due to its prolonged existence in the soil. Polluted water was entering a number of tributaries such as the West Burn, Malls Mire and the Polmadie Burn, elements of which were underground, and subsequently flowing into the Clyde.

It added: "Periods of heavy rainfall would regularly result in the tributaries overflowing and the subsequent flood waters reaching street level – the colour of such flood waters was green, giving a clear indication that chromium was being carried to locations beyond where it had originally been buried."

Who will pay?

POLITICIANS all agree something must be done about the poison under Shawfield. They do not, as yet, quite agree on who should pay for it.

Nobody likes paying to clean up somebody else's mess. But the business which dumped poison close to the Clyde is long gone. And then means government - at one level or another, or at all levels - will have the pick up the bill.

The current estimate to decontaminate the site of the J&J White in Shawfield is £54 million, to neutralise chromium. In the past, the European Union has helped local authorities, and regeneration agency Clyde Gateway, with such work. Not after Brexit.

HeraldScotland:

Warning Signs at Polmadie Burn near Oatlands

Alison Thewliss is the SNP MP for Glasgow Central, including the Oatlands scheme split by a burn turned green by a cancer-causing chemical.

She challenged the UK Government to contribute. Ms Thewliss said: “As local residents and others will be aware, the issue of toxicity in the water at Polmadie Burn – and in the surrounding areas – is a historical one.

"Unfortunately, financial recompense cannot be sought from the factory owners who dumped the chemicals that gave way to the problem, not least as the facility closed in the 1960s.

HeraldScotland:

J&J White factory from the air in 1950s. Picture from Clyde Gateway report

READ MORE: Poisonous ‘time bomb’ leaves families fearing they’ll be sold down the river 

“There is a significant post-industrial legacy of contamination in the Shawfield / Polmadie area – a fact that gave significant impetus to the setting up of Clyde Gateway back in 2008.

"Due to Brexit, EU funding will no longer be available to Clyde Gateway, and the UK Government has yet to commit to replacing it. The UK Government must recognise that without a significant investment of this kind, we will fail to properly restore and develop brownfield land.

“The problem of historical contamination at Shawfield / Polmadie is complex and too large to be adequately tackled by one group alone.

"It’s imperative therefore that all parties work together to find a proper, lasting solution to the issue and to make this land safe for future generations”.

Ms Thewliss and her Labour colleague Ged Killen earlier this month stressed to locals, including campaigner Gavin Cabrey, that there was no room for party politics in a clean-up. Mr Killen, however, said he thought the buck would stop with the SNP at Holyrood.

HeraldScotland:

MPs Ged Killen and Alison Thewliss flank campaigner Gavin Cabrey

Scottish Conservative Glasgow MSP Adam Tomkins has also been briefed on the toxicity and appeared to hint at a joint response. He said: "Conservative-led governments have invested billions of pounds of public money in city growth deals since 2010, including in Glasgow.

“In Glasgow, as elsewhere, part of that investment is being used to remediate industrial land so that it is safe for fresh development. “This is already happening in Sighthill and it needs to happen in Shawfield too.

“When there is a threat to public health, all the more reason for investing in remediation. Clyde Gateway has a remarkable record of success in redeveloping Glasgow’s east end. Both the Scottish and U.K. Governments should support its work in every way they can.”

Read the Shawfield remediation report in full 

HeraldScotland: