An investigation has revealed a ‘hazardous’ chemical was found in the fire that was left to smoulder for more than four weeks at a Bellway housing site in Hazlemere prompting complaints of fumes making neighbours feel ill.

The contaminant identified was part of the total petroleum hydrocarbon (TPH) family of chemical compounds found in crude oil, according to a report into fly-tipped waste that was dumped at a former vehicle repair centre off the A404 Amersham Road.

Residents of Hazlemere and Holmer Green have long awaited the release of the report, which was commissioned by Bellway and until recently had been withheld from the public.

Buckinghamshire Council and the Environment Agency (EA) both refused to release their copies of the report – even under Freedom of Information laws – but Bellway has now given a redacted version of the document to the Bucks Free Press.

The five-page report, dated May 17, details an investigation carried out by SoilEx Environmental Limited and states that laboratory tests showed that TPH was detected in one out of eight samples of waste that were dug up by an engineer and was present at a level of 1600mg/kg.

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The document added: “Of the one waste acceptance criteria that passed the hazardous criteria (SP3), this was deemed to be hazardous, therefore all other fines are suitable to be disposed of at a non-hazardous or stable non-reactive hazardous waste landfill.”

Bellway’s PR firm stressed that although the TPH found in sample SP3 was classified as ‘hazardous’, the chemical is commonly detected in the environment, especially industrial areas, and it was not unusual to find the substance on the site of a former coachyard.

However, independent Buckinghamshire councillor for Hazlemere Ed Gemmell, who leads the UK’s Climate Party, said he was concerned that the chemical might be harmful to those living near the site.

He said: “I am disgusted that this report was written on May 17 and it is only now that residents are getting sight of it and even then only via disclosure by the Bucks Free Press.

“This report confirms some hazardous waste, TPH, was burnt on the Bellway site. I understand the sample of TPH present was at a significant level and burning this might have released toxic fumes which could be potentially dangerous for residents living nearby.

“It is important that this is looked into in more detail to confirm this one way or the other and I have written to Bucks Council to request this.”

All waste has now been removed from the site, which is part of a larger area of land where Bellway is building a new development of 259 homes.

The fire in the former coachyard area started on April 25 as piles of fly-tipped waste were set alight and continued to smoulder and relight for weeks, during which time some residents complained of feeling sick from the fumes.

Bellway’s PR firm Liberty PR said the waste was believed to have been dumped on the land just before this date and that fly-tippers gained access to the area by removing concrete blocks and breaking a secure gate.

Thames Valley Police said last month that it had stopped its investigation into a potential arson at the site.

In a statement accompanying the report, Bellway claimed that ‘industrial levels’ of mostly metal recyclable waste had been dumped on at its site before the fire, but that Buckinghamshire Fire and Rescue Service had told it that there were ‘no concerns for public health’.

The developer’s North London managing director Ali Maruf said: “The fire started after an estimated 70 truckloads of waste were illegally dumped at our site in Amersham Road, Hazlemere, then set alight.

“We appreciate the patience of local residents while the fire was brought under control and then extinguished.

“Bellway followed guidance from the fire service and Environment Agency throughout and faced delays due to the need to identify the type of materials involved, so it could be disposed of correctly, and we commissioned specialist contractors to do this.”

The report identified different types of materials present in the waste and suggested they be disposed of via a ‘mixture of landfill, treatment and transfer stations’.

Bellway said the EA had assessed the disposal methods and was ‘satisfied that everything has been sent to an appropriate waste facility’.

The EA told the Free Press that it was withholding its copy of the report because it contained ‘volunteered confidential information’.

It added that there was ‘no fault’ with Bellway, which was the ‘victim of crime’ and had voluntarily cleared the waste.

The EA said the report was ‘solely to demonstrate correct handling of the waste and does not contain information regarding to emissions during the fire, so does not contribute to any public discourse around health concerns’.

It added: “There is nothing in the report which we consider indicates any cause for legitimate concern.”

The EA’s technical team also said: “We have been provided with full details on what was in the waste and where it will be disposed of legally, to ensure the environment is protected.”

Their statement added: “Buckinghamshire Fire and Rescue Service indicated to us that they have no concerns about the smoke and other emissions beyond their normal thresholds when there is a fire, however this was confirmed to us verbally during the incident, and we do not hold anything in writing.”

In a statement Liberty said: “Our independent contractor has advised that it’s highly likely that the soil already had levels of TPH in it, due to the site being a former coachyard, and the level of TPH found is typical of most former industrial sites.

“TPH is any compound derived from crude oil so typically where there is use of engine oil, diesel and petrol, these are likely to be found in samples.”

It added: “Although classed as hazardous, you will typically find higher levels of TPH at your local petrol station.

“Any traces found are isolated to the soil so there is no health risk to residents, as per toxicology reports conducted upon site remediation.

“Prior to development of the site, the land would be remediated as is standard protocol on former industrial premises.”

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