A large quantity of dangerous chemicals have been discovered in an industrial unit in Uckfield.
The same premises also contain what is believed to be between 6,000 and 8,000 NHS test pots, carrying patient information, including addresses, dates of birth, and telephone numbers.
The discovery was made when the building’s owner, Kevin Benton, asked an expert to identify its contents. The business that occupied the unit has gone into liquidation.
An expert employed by Mr Benton has said one of the products stored could, in certain circumstances, cause a massive explosion.
Wealden District Council is working with Mr Benton to dispose of them safely.
Richard Parker-Harding, head of Rother and Wealden district councils’ environmental health team said: “The police have investigated the site and declared it safe. We are now working with the property owner and Environment Agency to ensure that the chemicals are safely disposed of.”
The Environment Agency said that in September it sent a ‘stop and remove’ advice and guidance letter to Acquascience Limited.
‘Stop and remove’
The agency told Uckfield News:
“On 29 September 2017 we sent a ‘stop and remove’ advice and guidance letter to Acquascience Limited.
“This was because we had received information that waste might have been deposited at an industrial unit at Bellbrook Lane Industrial Estate, Uckfield, without an environmental permit.
“The unit was occupied by Acquascience Limited.
“Wealden District Council is leading the response into the storage of hazardous materials at Bellbrook Lane Industrial Estate, Uckfield.
“The Environment Agency’s remit is regulating waste management activities, investigating illegal deposit of hazardous waste and protecting the water environment.
“We have offered the council advice.
“We understand that Acquascience Limited is in administration and the landowner has taken possession of the industrial unit. Where a company is dissolved, responsibility for removal of waste usually rests with the landowner.
“The Environment Agency’s role in this matter would be to provide advice to the landowner.”
The London Gazette shows administrators were appointed at Acquascience Ltd on October 24, 2017.
UckfieldNews.com has asked the administrator for a comment but at the time of publication they had not responded.
An NHS investigation is under way following the discovery of the test pots. See separate story: NHS to investigate discovery of patient test pots in Uckfield industrial unit.
When Mr Benton discovered chemicals stored inside his premises he asked an expert to identify them.
He was quickly advised to call in the authorities because of the discovery of 300kg of Picric Acid, which if crystalised could cause a massive explosion. Police, fire service, bomb squad and Environment Agency all attended.
The UK Government website states that Picric Acid is ‘dangerously explosive, especially when exposed to shock, heat or flame”.
The expert who raised the alarm, chemist Andrew Smith, of Fergus Smith Special Waste Services Ltd, said he was supplying a list of all the chemicals in the building to the Environment Agency.
He said there were 25 tonnes of laboratory solvents on the site.
They include chloroform and formaldehyde, which Mr Smith described as “highly toxic”, and denatured alcohol, xylene, and methanol, which, he said, were “highly flammable”.
He is most concerned about the Picric Acid because he has never, in more than 30 years in the waste disposal business, seen such a large quantity of it. The most he has seen previously in one place is 500g.
He told UckfieldNews.com: “It is used a lot in laboratory research and we normally get a call when somebody discovers perhaps 100g in a bottle, which has not been used.”
He said the Picric Acid in the containers he inspected was damp but he was not prepared to open the others because even doing that could cause an explosion if the material had dried out.
His opinion was that the Picric Acid needed to be repackaged in smaller amounts with water added so that it could be moved safely for controlled disposal in a hazardous waste incinerator. It would cost tens of thousands of pounds to do that.
Unit owner Mr Benton said: “I don’t know what to do. If this lot goes up it will wipe out Uckfield. Everybody tells me this is deadly serious. You only have to look on the internet to see how dangerous Picric Acid can be.
“I have contacted several waste companies to come and look at it and two of them have refused to enter the building now they know what is in there.”
Mr Benton said he had not been contacted by any government agency at any level. “No-one is taking any interest or offering help of any kind. This alarms me given the public safety issue.”
• Update on Friday, November 3: Notice served on Uckfield industrial unit owner to remove hazardous chemicals.
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