The fire at the RIO recycling site in Orsett saw 40,000 tonnes of wood go up in flames and took 5 weeks to burn itself out after the fire brigade stopped fighting the blaze. Just hours after the decision was taken, high winds blanketed the local area in toxic smoke.
While the fire brigade gave motorists warning to drive slowly and take extra care on roads, no warning was offered to residents who saw their homes engulfed in billowing smoke.
Local resident Maureen McPherson feels the council should have done more: “I feel really let down,” she said. “When I rang the council they couldn’t even tell me what type of recycled wood was being burnt. They knew something was wrong because the fire service had said that they couldn’t put the fire out as it would pollute the water table.”
Mrs McPherson, who is lay minister at her local church and chaplain at the Basildon and Thurrock Hospital, suffered blood poisoning and breathing difficulties from the toxic fumes. “I’m angry because since the fire started it’s left me feeling so ill. It’s created so many problems and been really difficult. When I rang the council they gave me no advice.”
Melanie Burden, from solicitors colemans-ctts, who are helping a number of people make compensation claims after they fell ill, called on the council to make a full enquiry. “The situation is totally unacceptable. We are helping a number people who have suffered terribly after inhaling smoke from the fire and the council have shown little concern for public health. The smoke from the fire posed a significant health risk: chipboard and MDF were left to burn, and the resulting smoke is causing residents to fall ill.”
Over the past five weeks smoke has damaged cars and property, while residents have also complained of having suffered illness and fatigue since the fire.
At the time, the fire brigade was criticised by safety officers for making the decision to allow it to burn out because it was feared strong winds could carry the fumes across local roads and residential areas. Now the smoke, which lasted several weeks, is being blamed for the illness and breathing difficulties many residents have suffered since the fire.
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