Mother wins ‘David and Goliath’ case over Staffordshire landfill site emissions

The mother of a five-year-old boy with respiratory problems has won a High Court battle over the regulation of a landfill site accused of emitting noxious gases that are impacting her son’s life.

Rebecca Currie said the decision was "going to give Mathew and the community fresh air again, not what we’ve been breathing in", following what has been described as a "David and Goliath" legal case against the Environment Agency (EA).

Ms Currie feared she would be forced to move home if she lost the legal action.

Her lawyers argued there is a "public health emergency" in the vicinity of Walleys Quarry in Silverdale, Newcastle-under-Lyme, claiming hydrogen sulphide (H2S) emissions are affecting "hundreds and probably thousands of local people".

Mathew Richards was born prematurely at 26 weeks with chronic lung disease and needed oxygen support for 19 months.

He and his mother live about 400 metres from the Staffordshire quarry, and his doctor told the court that H2S gas emitted from the site was preventing his recovery and lung development.

The child was at risk of developing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease in the future which would dramatically reduce his life expectancy, the medic added.

Ms Currie told Sky News correspondent Becky Johnson: "I’ve had horrendous nights, basically from birth, he has been really really poorly and the doctors couldn’t put their finger on what the matter was.

"He’s had cystic fibrosis tests done, bronchoscopies done and it was just a bit like a mystery illness. He got this wet persistent cough continuously and nobody could work it out really what was going on.

"I never ever for one moment thought it was the landfill I didn’t realise that landfill could do that to a child."

Ms Currie described fumes from the site as "a stomach-wrenching smell like rotten eggs", and other residents said they suffered headaches and nosebleeds from the fumes.

She added: "In January, the house was getting really thick of this gassy rotten egg smell, to the extent that we were trying to take doors up, put plug holes in, put the toilet seats down.

"He (Matthew) got an appointment in the April with this consultant at the Royal Stoke, so we went there and I basically said to them Matthew is seriously poorly again and I’ve got these gases literally thick in the home and I asked if that was anything to do with it and he said yes.

"He basically said that he was diagnosed with aggravation from environmental toxic gases so I really needed to do something then and it basically all came together.

"We just got the case started"

However, Ms Currie said despite the "amazing" result Matthew will have to breathe fresh air for the next three to five years to possible recuperate the damage done to his lungs.

"It’s absolutely amazing, Matthew is not just fought for his own fresh air but he has fought for a whole community of thousands and thousands of people who are suffering", she said.

"For his health, obviously his lungs have been made quite poorly, if we can get him right now, breathing fresh air for the next three to five years, he could possibly recuperate a lot of the damage that has been done already.

"It’s a long time five years but hopefully we can get him back on track"

Reacting to the ruling she said: "Today has just been a real whirlwind to actually take the Environment Agency to court and come out winning its just amazing."

But Ms Currie added: "It should have never of got to this though we shouldn’t have had to do what we’ve done, I shouldn’t have had to go to that High Court and fight for Matthew".

The EA must now take more action to control emissions, the court ruled, despite not being in breach of its legal obligations.

In delivering the court’s 55-page judgement, Mr Justice Fordham said he was "satisfied that there is a direct effect on Mathew’s home, family life and private life from adverse effects of severe environmental pollution".

The judge said the EA "must implement" Public Health England’s advice to reduce concentrations of hydrogen sulphide in the area to one part per billion, less than an eighth of the level that can be smelled, by January 2022.

Public Health England’s position is that "currently any risk to long-term health is likely to be small, but a risk cannot completely be excluded if exposure were to continue at current levels".

The court heard the EA, which is monitoring the site’s air-quality levels, had taken "very substantial steps" at the landfill site and "continues to keep matters under review".

Mathew’s solicitor Rebekah Carrier said: "This is truly a David and Goliath case where a mother has faced up to the government agency which is supposed to protect public health and yet has failed so badly to do so."

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