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Former Halls site in Paddock Wood

Investigation of potential land contamination

Part 2A of the Environmental Protection Act 1990, places a legal duty on all local councils to try to find land in their area that might have been contaminated by current or former users. The Council then has to put any sites they find in order of priority based on the risk they might cause to human health or the wider environment. We have been going through this process for some time, in line with our Contaminated Land Investigation Strategy published in 2008 (currently under review).

Our work to date has identified the site of the former Hall’s Site in Paddock Wood as the top priority site in our district for several reasons but mainly because of the historical use of the site for making mainly timber sheds and greenhouses which involved timber treatment. This was before the houses were built and that we cannot be certain that any contaminated land was dealt with when the houses were built in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Why did Tunbridge Wells Borough Council investigate the area?

The Council has a duty under Part 2A of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 to inspect its area for land which, in the past may have been used in a way that led to contamination (timber treatment) and address any potential issues arising from this.

The Council made its decision about whether to investigate the former Hall’s site area based on the potential for contamination of the site and considering the number of households potentially affected. We started this process in April 2014 as there had been some problems with house sales locally because of questions raised over potential contamination. In addition, changes to contaminated land legislation and government guidance concerning contaminated land had recently been completed.

What was the council looking for?

This area was the site of a former works that we understand carried out timber treatment and we looked mainly for hydrocarbons associated with timber treatment substances like tars and creosotes. We were provided with evidence that the site might have been involved in constructing barns with asbestos material in them so we also looked for that too.

Where did you look?

We divided the site into three zones. The first area (Zone 1) is where the timber works was based and this is where we initially concentrated the investigation. The other two areas (Zones 2 and 3) were used for storage so were likely to be at lower risk of contamination, therefore we decided only to investigate these zones if we identified a public health risk within Zone 1 area. Based on the results found in Zone 1, we did not need to extend our investigations into Zones 2 and 3, although some investigations were made by private householders within these zones, which did not identify any contamination issues.

What did you do?

We took numerous soil samples from the ground across the site, targeting specific areas such as locations of old tanks, as well as random samples to get coverage of the whole of Zone 1. The work was split  into two phases, the first phase found that there were no concerns about most of the things we were looking for in the soils (e.g. hydrocarbons) but did find that asbestos was present in a number of samples distributed across the site.

The second phase then concentrated specifically on asbestos taking more samples from Zone 1. We also used a specialist company to investigate if the asbestos in the soil was likely to be transferred to the air during normal gardening activities.

We were able to use the results of these investigations to make an assessment of the potential risk to health from the asbestos in the soils.

We have used leading experts to help us to do these at all times and have consulted with Public Health England.

What was the conclusion?

Although there is some asbestos in the ground, the level of risk to health has been classified as “category 4” as defined by the statutory guidance that we follow.  This is the lowest level of risk within the contaminated land risk assessment process and means that there is minimal health risk from the concentrations present and that the asbestos present was not likely to be transferred to air and be inhaled. Given this, residents can continue to use their garden as normal such as by growing vegetables and letting children and pets play in the soil.

The final summary reports are available on this website.

What advice has the Council taken?

The Council followed guidance provided by the government and Environment Agency. We employed experts to help us to design and implement the site investigation and to undertake the required risk assessments. The companies we used have significant experience of supporting councils in making decisions about contaminated land and are leading experts in asbestos in soils.

Do I need to do anything?

No, you can carry on using your property as normal.

What if I find asbestos in my garden?

It is very unlikely that you will find asbestos in your garden and even if you do it is unlikely to be in a form (dust) that could be inhaled which is the exposure route of concern from a health perspective.  If you do find any materials that you think might be asbestos containing material, first damp down the debris using water, and either gently flush away small particles to the drain or, wearing protective gloves to prevent scratches, pick up larger pieces carefully, place in two plastic bags and seal. Do not sweep up or vacuum asbestos as this will create airborne dust. It can then be taken to the North Farm household waste recycling centre where it can be disposed of.  You should contact them first to check that they have room for it.

What if I am having building work done?

There is no need for any extra precautions but you should tell your builders that they may find some asbestos in the garden so that they are aware. They should then follow the same advice as above.

How about selling my house?

The investigations have shown that the estate as a whole is not contaminated, you should have been provided with a letter that confirms this. House sales should not be affected by questions over contaminated land.

What other information can we see?

The summary reports and appendices are available on this website. There are also useful links to other places you can get general information on contaminated land including the Environment Agency and Public Health England.

Will you identify individual properties where samples were taken?

No. We have investigated and assessed the site as a whole rather than as individual properties and we are making the decision that it is not contaminated on a whole site basis.  This will ensure those properties we have not sampled are not discriminated against.

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