East Londoners brave toxic cloud emanating from dumpfire to host Coronation parties

·4-min read
Launders Lane in the Summer (LFB)
Launders Lane in the Summer (LFB)

East Londoners will be playing old classics like Hook a Duck and Guess the Sweets in a Jar at a Coronation party as decade-long fire spews out potentially harmful toxins just behind them.

Locals in Rainham, on the border of Havering and Essex, will be baking cakes and shaking donation buckets on the day of King Charles III’s coronation to raise funds for a legal challenge against Havering council to allow them to conduct their own air quality tests as fires from the dreaded Launders Lane pick up again in the hot weather.

Havering Council says it needs four more months worth of air quality test results before taking action.

But retired civil servant Catherine Newton, who is organising the Coronation events, says the community she has been a part of for 40 years can’t wait that long.

She told the Standard: “We worry all the time about the fumes not just during the events.

“Unfortunately the council, the environment agency and the mayor’s office are taking far too long to sort this out.

“All the time people’s lives are at risk.

“What choice do we have? We need to raise these funds. We can’t put our lives on hold.”

Catherine Newton (Supplied)
Catherine Newton (Supplied)

The community activist has lived 1-and-a-half miles away from the source of the fires that have raged on-and-off for the past two decades.

She added: “I suffer from nose bleeds, sore throats, coughs, a heavy feeling in my chest and a dry mouth.

“Yesterday it was really bad again. My friend said she took her black dog for a walk this week and by the time she came home it was covered in white ash.”

Lung cancer sufferer Christine Read, 75, has donated her Bungalow’s front garden for the Coronation fundraiser. It lies just half a mile away from the source of the dump fire.

She told the Standard: “Of course we are worried about what we are breathing in, but life goes on we can’t stay indoors forever,

“I’m 75 so not too worried about me. But I want to help my grandson and the other children live a healthy life and have a good future.

“The fires only get reported when you see flames. It doesn’t get reported when it’s the underground toxic gas coming up.

“Next month I will get my scan to see about my lung cancer, so fingers crossed I get to see the end of this and Launders Lane finally getting resolved.

“We just want to be able to breathe normally.”

Her comments came as it was revealed air in every London borough breaches World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines on the toxic pollutant nitrogen dioxide, a new study has revealed.

Analysis by City Hall reveals that at 100 per cent of the 1,823 sites measured across the capital, nitrogen dioxide levels exceed the WHO’s recommended limit of 10 µg/m3.

During a nine-day study, a University College London team found that toxic PM2.5 pollution is 70 per cent higher in streets close to Launders Lane than in other parts of the borough bordering Essex.

Thick smoke: around 100 tonnes of rubbish is alight in 2020. (@Martin_Hesher35)
Thick smoke: around 100 tonnes of rubbish is alight in 2020. (@Martin_Hesher35)

Havering Council has been approached for comment.

Last month council leader Ray Morgon says the issue is “complex” due to issues of land ownership and that air quality monitoring needs to be carried out over a long period to give a “clear indication” of the risks to human health.

The complex land ownership issues stem from a police raid on the site in 2011 which uncovered a trapdoor in a portable cabin leading to a “fully functional cannabis factory” made of buried shipping containers.

Police uncovered the “complex” underground lair hiding around 400 cannabis plants, four handguns, one AK47, two sawn-off firearms, six petrol bombs and around £20,000 in cash, police said.

He added: “Some of the possible solutions to resolving this could be costly, which would be challenging for us as we have had to make year on year savings to our annual council budget and still have to deliver vital services to our residents.

“We therefore need the GLA or the Government to support us as we can’t do this alone.

“However, with all that being said, we want residents to know that this will not stop us trying to find a way of solving this.”

She estimated the cost to make the site safe to fall between £10m and £22m.

A spokeswoman for the Mayor of London previously said: “The ongoing fires at Launders Lane are an important issue and one that needs a long-term solution.

“This has unfortunately been going on for many years now and presents a risk not just to the local community but to the firefighters who are regularly called out to deal with fires there.

“The Mayor’s team are in touch with the parties involved to encourage them to find a suitable long-term solution.”


The first coronation event will take place at Harris Academy on May 1, another will take place on Acer Avenue on May 6.

To donate to the Launders Lane community fund click here.