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Row Brewing Over Syria Chemicals Destruction in Ellesmere Port as Council Seeks to Reassure

Published: 21st January 2014 16:05

As Cheshire West and Chester Council seeks to reassure residents in the local area, Andrew Miller MP demands an apology from William Hague over plans to dispose of chemicals from Syria at a plant in Ellesmere Port.  

VeoliaFacing the threat of U.S. air strikes, the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad last year promised to dismantle its chemical arsenal, telling the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons it possessed 1,300 tonnes of such weapons. In December, the UK Government pledged to help take responsibility for the safe destriction of some of the materials.

It has since agreed to destroy 130 tons of the country's industrial grade chemical stockpile. Only two companies in the country have the capability to handle such chemicals and Veolia, based in Ellesmere Port's Bridges Road, has been awarded the contract.

The destruction of the chemicals will take place at the end of February.

On Thursday January 16 Cheshire West and Chester Councillor Lynn Riley stressed that the materials to be disposed of at the Ellesmere Port plant were not the actual chemical warfare weapons but are constituent chemicals used through a manufacturing process to create such weapons. They are known as 'B precursors' , are not chemical weapons and do not contain explosives. They are used routinely in the UK pharmaceutical industry and are similar to the standard industrial materials safely proceed by the plant every day.

Said Councillor Riley: "We have asked Veolia whether we can have a list of such chemicals for disposal so that we can independently have those reviewed by Health Protection England to satisfy ourselves that the materials will provide no increased risk to the public.

"I understand that any treatment of such chemicals will not take place until the end of February which will provide us sufficient time, once aware of the materials themselves, to seek the expert observations of independent Health Protection Specialists."

Leader of the Opposition and Ellesmere Port Councillor, Justin Madder said: "Whilst there was some speculation before Christmas about this, today is the first time we have heard anything officially.

"My understanding is that this decision is taken by Central Government and is not one we have any input into locally. The fact remains, however, that people will be understandably anxious about what this means so it is important that the local Council and Environment Agency work openly and quickly together to provide the necessary reassurance to the local public.

"The workforce at Veolia are highly skilled and experienced people and the plant has a 20-year track-record of delivering to the worlds' highest standards but it is important that the people of Ellesmere Port have confidence in them."

Cheshire West and Chester do monitor air quality in Ellesmere Port including equipment that measures pollutant concentrations at high level between Joseph Groome Towers and Ellesmere Port library.

Whilst this equipment is currently used for traditional pollutants such as nitrogen oxides, particulates and sulphur dioxide and is not currently capable of monitoring specialised pollutants, it is an indicator of products of combustion that may be in the vicinity.

Said Councillor Riley: "We can assure the public we are actively monitoring during any period of disposal."

MP demands apology from Foreign Secretary

Meanwhile, Andrew Miller, MP for Ellesmere Port and Neston, criticised the Government's failure to consult with him on the issue and asked the Foreign Secretary, William Hague, to apologise to residents.

On January 20, Mr Miller asked Mr Hague why the Government had failed to keep him fully informed about the contract between the Government and Veolia Environmental Services regarding the destruction of chemical weapons in Ellesmere Port, despite its assurance to Veolia that it would. He also called on the Foreign Secretary to apologise to the people of Ellesmere Port and Neston for such an appalling lack of information.

Mr Hague apologised and said he would ensure that this was rectified immediately. He also explained that the materials to be destroyed at the Veolia facility were not ‘chemical weapons' but the chemicals used to manufacture them, much like other industrial chemicals already processed at the site.

Andrew Miller said: "It is simply wrong for the Government to keep a Member of Parliament in the dark about something so important happening in their constituency when local people are bound to have concerns. I have already received more than 300 e-mails from people worried about the situation. I shall expect a full brief from the Government and speedy answers to the questions I have tabled.

"I shall wait until I have read the Government brief before I comment further."

The questions asked by Mr Miller are:

1. What the nature is of the contract between the Government and Veolia Environmental Services in respect of the destruction of chemical weapons at Ellesmere Port.

2. With reference to the Government's contract with Veolia Environmental Services in respect of the destruction of chemical weapons at Ellesmere Port, what the nature is of the material to be destroyed; whether it is all in solid or liquid phase; and whether any ordnance will come to Ellesmere Port.

3. With reference to the Government's contract with Veolia Environmental Services in respect of the destruction of chemical weapons at Ellesmere Port, what steps he is taking to ensure the safe transit of the chemical weapons within the UK; and which other sites are being utilised for this purpose.

4. With reference to the Government's contract with Veolia Environmental Services in respect of the destruction of chemical weapons at Ellesmere Port, whether the process involves any (a) discharge to local water courses and (b) risk of any of the material venting to the atmosphere in a toxic state.

5. With reference to the Government's contract with Veolia Environmental Services in respect of the destruction of chemical weapons at Ellesmere Port, whether the Government will require any oversight of the process other than that previously applied to the site.

Answers are expected by Thurday Januray 23.

UPDATE - 23.1.2014

From the office of Andrew Miller MP:

Following the failure of the Government to inform him of plans to dispose of chemicals from Syria in Ellesmere Port Andrew Miller, MP for Ellesmere Port and Neston, raised a ‘Point of Order' in the House of Commons on Monday (20/01) asking for this to be corrected, he also tabled a number of key questions reflecting the concerns raised by constituents.

On Tuesday (21/01) he raised the matter with the Foreign Secretary, William Hague, during ‘Question Time' and the Minister publicly apologised for the Government's failure and promised that he would urgently arrange for Mr Miller to meet with a high level Minster to discuss the matter.

On Wednesday (22/01) Mr Miller met with Philip Dunne MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Ministry of Defence (MOD) together with expert scientists from the MOD and the Environment Agency, where Mr Miller's questions were discussed in a constructive manner.

Andrew Miller said: "It is unfortunate that the Government failed to engage with the local community but I am grateful for the apology from William Hague and the subsequent actions he took.

"I am now confident that there are no actual ‘chemical weapons' coming to the site in Ellesmere Port and the materials in transit present no greater hazard than the normal day to day work undertaken by Veolia Environmental Services, and are much like chemicals emanating from civilian sources routinely destroyed at the plant."

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Hayden Kibble
At 08:39 on 22nd January 2014, Hayden Kibble commented:
Residents of Ellesmere port and surrounding areas are already up in arms with over 300 local people signing a petition to stop the incineration of chemical weapon precursors in Ellesmere port:


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