In the last piece in our series on the history of toxic waste being dumped in Wales, we looked at Maendy quarry - which sits on the hill between Pontypridd and Church Village.

In the 1960s and 70s, Maendy quarry - alongside its sister site, Brofiscin, near Pontyclun - was used as landfills for carcinogenic toxic waste, including PCBs, which mostly came from the Monsanto factory in Newport.

When the Brofiscin quarry started leaking in 2003, it eventually led to a multi-million pound remediation project. Critics say the site still poses a threat to people’s health, but at least something was done.

The National Wales: The site of Brofiscin quarry. Photo: Siriol GriffithsThe site of Brofiscin quarry. Photo: Siriol Griffiths

Maendy quarry has had no attempt at remediation. Why not? And whose responsibility should it be?

Quite clearly, because of its history as a landfill site for harmful toxic waste and carcinogenic chemicals, the land at Maendy has been contaminated. However, the definition of “contaminated land” is enshrined in law, and defining an area as such can only be done under certain conditions.

The first step to ensuring public safety from sites where historical dumping has taken place is to classify it legally as “contaminated land”. The definition is part of the Environmental Protection Act 1990, which says that:

‘Contaminated Land’ is any land which appears to the local authority in whose area it is situated to be in such a condition, by reason of substances in, on or under the land that -

Significant harm is being caused or there is a significant possibility of such harm being caused; or

Significant pollution of controlled waters is being caused or there is a significant possibility of such pollution being caused”

When Brofiscin quarry started to leak, its proximity to people’s houses, and their complaints about the smell, might suggest that, in a legal sense, the council saw the possibility of “significant harm” being caused by the site and acted within the legislation to remedy that.

After a local council determines that a site is legally “contaminated”, it can ask the relevant authority - who in Wales would be Natural Resources Wales (NRW) - for support in managing the site. At this point, it becomes, in law, a 'special site'.

There are only two Special Sites in Wales; the site of the former military research lab on land that was commandeered by the MOD during the Second World War, and Brofiscin quarry. Both of which have been remediated by Natural Resources Wales.

The National Wales: The entrance to the western side of Maendy Quarry, which lacks any warning of the danger that lies beyond. Photo: Siriol GriffithsThe entrance to the western side of Maendy Quarry, which lacks any warning of the danger that lies beyond. Photo: Siriol Griffiths

The land at Maendy quarry hasn’t been remediated, and isn’t classified as 'contaminated'.

When The National asked Natural Resources Wales about Maendy, we received a response that said: “Maendy Quarry does not meet the definition of a potential special site”.

So, if the land is potentially contaminated, but isn’t so bad that NRW has to step in, that leaves a site under the watch of the local authority.

In a statement to The National regarding Maendy quarry, a spokesperson for Rhondda Cynon Taf County Borough Council: “As a private site, the overall responsibility lies with the said landowner, however the Local Authority recognises that it has previous land use that could support the possible need for future investigation under Part 2A, Environmental Protection Act, 1990. 

“As is the case with many Local Authorities across Wales and the UK there are numerous potential contaminated land sites within our County Borough and alongside the site at Maendy Quarry, they are subject to prioritisation in accordance with the Council’s Contaminated Land Inspection Strategy.”

PART ONE: How toxic waste has been dumped across Wales and never properly cleaned up

PART TWO: The legacy of a Newport site that still discharges toxic chemicals into the Severn

PART THREE: The toxic waste dump in the valleys where a company 'tipped explosives'

The statutory framework regarding contaminated land is a UK Parliamentary Act - which means that the law applies equally to local councils in the home counties as it does to councils in the valleys.

While the responsibility for identifying contaminated land falls on the shoulders of local councils, and with ever-decreasing budgets available for them to provide crucial services, it’s clear that investigating potentially polluted sites from half a century ago may slip down the list of priorities.

Regarding Maendy, Welsh Conservative and Shadow Climate Change Minister Janet Finch-Saunders MS said: “It is really disappointing to see a situation where contaminated land is involved degrading into the blame game and finger-pointing.

“Rather than landowners, the Council, and NRW arguing with each other, we need these partners to come together to make the area safe for future generations.

“We need accountability and responsibility here and I urge all parties to engage properly to find a solution.”

Heledd Fychan is an MS for South Wales Central, and a former Pontypridd county councillor. She told The National: “This is extremely worrying, with no one seemingly willing to take responsibility for the contaminated land. I urge all relevant authorities to work together to put this right, and will be writing to the Welsh Government to ask what action they are taking to ensure this happens.”

The legislation regarding contaminated sites recommends that remediation takes place voluntarily, and the plans for development of the site seen by The National, as mentioned in our last piece in this series, suggests that work is being done in this regard.

Has Maendy’s relatively remote location meant that potential leaks - like those at Brofiscin in 2003 - haven’t been spotted?

It’s shocking for a site that was at one time so polluted, and which is adjacent to many small streams which feed larger rivers, to remain unremediated.

Will a clean up happen one day soon?

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