Protesters have blocked waste lorries getting onto a landfill site at the centre of a long-running row over noxious gas fumes which a local GP has likened to a kind of “torture” for residents.
About 50 demonstrators arrived at the gates of Walleys Quarry landfill site in Silverdale, Staffordshire on Wednesday morning, some settling into camping chairs and tying “Stop the Stink” banners to fences.
By midday the group, the vast majority of which are locals living within a mile of the site, had succeeded in preventing three lorries getting on site, while police tried to manage the situation.
A hardcore of protesters blocked the landfill’s main entrance in Cemetery Road, some carrying placards reading “Whara pen ‘n’ ink” and images of superheroes with the caption “toxic waste does not give you superpowers”.
There was support from passing drivers, who honked horns, or in the case of a passing ice cream van, played its jingle of The Entertainer, in support.
It is the latest move in a long-running campaign by the Stop the Stink campaign group against the site, which protesters have claimed is the cause of a pungent eggy stink, emanating day and night.
An Environment Agency (EA) report found levels of a gas – hydrogen sulphide – recorded at the site had exceeded World Health Organisation guidelines, though it also said any long-term health risks were likely to be small.
Dr Paul Scott, a senior partner at the local Silverdale Village GP surgery, who was at the protest, said the stench was causing “stress” to many of his 12,500 patients.
“I would almost call it a form of torture,” he said.
“Because if you were told that every second, third or fourth day, you were going to have sleepless nights, and they’d have all the effects from that – any other country in the world, they’d step in.”
Dr Scott, who also chairs North Staffordshire Local Medical Committee (LMC), said he had patients coming in “daily” complaining of problems caused by the smell.
Although a long-term problem, he claimed the stench – known locally as the Silverdale Stink – seemed to have got stronger since February.
“The mental health side is not going away, we’ve sorted out inhalers and anti-histamines – you can sort that to a degree,” he said.
“But the mental health (issues) you can’t – and that really needs recognising.”
He added: “In many ways it’s a form of stress because it’s something that is out of people’s control and it’s random.”
Dr Scott said the smell was so bad that during a Covid vaccine clinic at his surgery in February staff and patients could “barely” cope, with people “coughing and spluttering”.
He said: “Something has so seriously gone wrong here – and there doesn’t seem to be a solution,” adding it was only because “people weren’t dropping dead” that he believed more had not yet been done to tackle the smell.
Dr Scott said: “We don’t really know the long-term effect of this – the problem is we won’t really know until five or 10 years down the road.”
Nathan Wint, who set up Stop the Stink, said: “That smell you can smell now, that really strong eggy smell is what we get in our homes and it sticks in the home, and you cannot get it out.”
Mr Wint, 31, said the campaign would continue “until the problem is solved and the children can go to school and breathe fresh, clean air, and people stop saying it is affecting their mental health”.
To people saying it was “just a smell”, he said: “It really isn’t just a smell, it fills your house, sticks to everything – it’s ruining people’s lives.”
Campaigners are now waiting for a judge to rule on a legal fight over the landfill site, said to be the source of the smell.
Lawyers representing five-year-old Mathew Richards, whose home is less than half a mile from the site, say there is a “public health emergency” in the vicinity of Walleys Quarry.
They have claimed the hydrogen sulphide emissions are affecting “hundreds and probably thousands” of people and want a judge to order the Environment Agency to take “effective measures” to remove the risk to Mathew’s life.
Mr Justice Fordham finished hearing evidence on Friday and is expected to deliver a ruling in the near future.
Walleys Quarry, which is an “interested party” in the legal action, says, on its website that it offers a “safe disposal method” for waste that cannot be otherwise reused or recycled.