Updated Jan 15, 2021

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Data maps over 21,000 old landfills in England and Wales

Analysis of official data has mapped more than 21,000 old landfills across England and Wales. The data, put together by the Ends Report, has located landfills around the UK with waste categorised and both hazardous waste and "waste unknown". Some of the sites are located under housing, schools and green spaces.

Of the sites mapped, 7,265 contain industrial waste, 1,287 contain hazardous waste and 413 uncategorised.

Even the Environment Agency are not aware of the contents of some of the landfill sites, especially older sites which often have a lack of information. The Ends Report was told by one environmental professional dealing with landfills from the 1950s and 1960s that "you can find anything in there" and that the sites were a "complete mess".

The Environment Agency also added that they did not have detailed information about each landfill site and location, with sites getting more data when they were cleaned up. A lot of the data that is available may also be out of date as the definition of hazardous waste has changed.

The 413 landfill sites with unknown contents are under parkland, playing fields, schools and housing.

Some of the sites redeveloped for public use may have been cleaned up, but the extent to which this has been done depends on methods available and used at the time of the developments. However, it is believed that the majority of them remain in place.

Dr Paul Johnston, from Greenpeace's research laboratory cautioned that old tips contained "all sorts of horrors and rubbish. . . it's another one of these problems that is waiting to creep up on us and bite us in a very big way."

Modern landfills are lined before the waste is dumped which means the rubbish and any chemicals they contain should not be able to get out and contaminate nearby soils and waters, but old landfills were not always lined this way which means potentially very dangerous substances could leak out.

Dr Paul Johnston added:

"There's a huge variety of problems out there, ranging from asbestos to PCBs to radioactive material, to more recent chemicals like PFOA and pesticide waste that has been dumped in a large number of locations".

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