Toxic Launders Lane fires making residents ‘prisoners in their own homes’

Launders Lane in the Summer of 2020  (LFB)
Launders Lane in the Summer of 2020 (LFB)

Locals living next to a toxic landfill fire that has burned “on and off for 20 years” in east London are “prisoners in their own home”, a councillor has said.

Sue Ospreay says the quality of the air is so bad that people living around the site in Launders Lane, Rainham, can no longer open thier windows or go into their gardens.

Havering Council says it needs six more months for results air quality tests before taking action.

But ITV London reported in January that there is already an “unacceptable risk” to residents’ health stemming from the site which has been used as both a heavily fortified cannabis factory and an illegal dump for years.

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 the site than in other parts of the borough bordering Essex.

Cllr Ospreay, of the Havering Residents Association, has lived in the area since she was a young girl, and can “taste” the air coming out of Launders Lane.

ITV shot drone footage of Launders Lane smouldering in January (ITV)
ITV shot drone footage of Launders Lane smouldering in January (ITV)

The 61-year-old told the Standard: “Now we have people hurting, we have got people who have not been very well.

“You can’t help but draw your own conclusions, is it just coincidence we have higher rates of COPD and high rates of cancer? Or does it have something to do with the fires at Launders Lane?”

COPD or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease results from long-term exposure to harmful gases and particles causing breathing difficulties and can dramatically shorten life spans.

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

She added: “I wish I had that much hiding behind the sofa but I don’t.

“Rainham is made up of your old east Londoners we had the camaraderie to get through the blitz and we still have that now.

“But I don’t think we can go through another summer. We have people who can’t go into their own gardens, or open their windows. They are prisoners in their own homes.

“It’s been 20 years, a terrible amount of time, and nothing has been done.

“That is shameful. I am fearful of the results of those tests.”

Councillor Sue Ospreay, of the Havering Residents Association (Havering Council)
Councillor Sue Ospreay, of the Havering Residents Association (Havering Council)

She begged the Mayor of London to help take action, asking: “If you are so passionate about the quality of air that we are breathing in that you are prepared to expand Ulez to Havering and put a lot of people out of work would you please take a look at the rubbish air we are breathing in from Launders Lane?

“Because that is going to do far more harm.

”I don’t think he is interested in us.”

Locals are also complaining that the air pollution is locking them in their homes.

“It’s awful, if I’m honest”, says mother-of-two Karina Falzon. “We’ve lived here for 15 years and the past two have been the worst. It’s now affecting people’s health.

“My ten year-old son has a rare cancer and for the past two days he has woken up with a sore throat and is complaining about the smell of burning.

“I can’t even open our windows. We’re in winter so I dread to think what it will be like in the summer.”

Air pollution around Launders Lane (Screenshot taken last month) (Breezometer)
Air pollution around Launders Lane (Screenshot taken last month) (Breezometer)

A spokeswoman for the Mayor of London 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.”

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.

Councillor Ray Morgon, leader of Havering Council, said: “It is important to be clear that this is a complex issue around private land – which is not owned by the Council.

“The land has a long history of issues and has changed hands after a previous prosecution.

“The ideal solution would be for the landowner to solve this and we are engaging with them about the site and their plans for it.”

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.”

It was revealed by LDRS, that current landowner, DMC Services (Essex) Limited purchased the land for £440,000 in 2017.

Co-owner Jerry O’Donovan told the LDRS his company takes its responsibilities “very seriously” but did not respond when asked whether he has any plans to make the land safer.

London Fire Brigade’s Borough Commander for Havering, Paul McClenaghan, said his crews have attended more than 70 fires at the site since 2018.

He said: “The fires are distressing for the local community and are putting firefighters at unnecessary risk.

To donate to the Launders Lane community fund click here.