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Stink returns to East End’s ‘Stinky Bridge’ after 70 years as developers hit contaminated soil

PUBLISHED: 16:34 24 August 2016 | UPDATED: 17:09 24 August 2016

The 'stink' hole just yards from houses next to former Phoenix smelting works site

The 'stink' hole just yards from houses next to former Phoenix smelting works site

Andy Ager (resident) free editorial use

A woman with cancer and a 10-month-old baby girl are among hundreds of people hit by fumes from contaminated canalside land in London’s East End where a wartime smelting works once stood.

'Stink' hole where contaminated soil reveals what appears to be pool of tar'Stink' hole where contaminated soil reveals what appears to be pool of tar

Health officials from Tower Hamlets Council have ordered land clearance work at Poplar’s former Phoenix foundry on the Limehouse Cut to be stopped.

They inspected the site which is overlooked by hundreds of homes both sides of the canal that cuts through Poplar and Bow Common.

Developers had started land clearance ready to build a 12-storey luxury tower block—but it “clearly went wrong” according to the Mayor.

The work has caused a stench of tar-like substance believed to have laid undisturbed under the ground for 70 years—now permeating the entire neighbourhood.

Suffering neighbours right opposite contaminated land site next to the Limehouse Cut... Katherine OMahony,
Andy Ager and Joshua CaterSuffering neighbours right opposite contaminated land site next to the Limehouse Cut... Katherine OMahony, Andy Ager and Joshua Cater

A petition signed by hundreds of households has been sent to the Town Hall over the stink that families have suffered on and off since May.

“I have the misfortune of being diagnosed with breast cancer and will be getting chemotherapy soon,” a woman who asked not to be identified tells tomorrow’s East London Advertiser.

“I am dreading recuperating with these fumes and dust.

“I spent a few minutes on my balcony tending my plants, but had to hurry back inside as the fumes were too much and was forced to shut all the windows.”

Baby-in-the-sky... even the 12th floor isn't enough to keep little Caron Grisalesova, 10 months, free from the fumesBaby-in-the-sky... even the 12th floor isn't enough to keep little Caron Grisalesova, 10 months, free from the fumes

Ironically, the bridge over the Limehouse Cut connecting Upper North Street to Bow Common Lane was known locally as ‘Stinky Bridge’ because of the odours from the wartime foundry.

Now the fumes are back to haunt the families after seven decades lying dormant.

Even living high up on the 12th floor in Ursula Gauld Way is no escape from the nauseous stench, as new mum Yvonne Grisalesova has found. She has to take her 10-month-old baby daughter Caron out of the flat every day to get away from the odour.

“The fumes are all over the flat,” Yvonne explains. “You can’t get away from it. I don’t know what damage it could do to my baby’s health.”

Residents' chairman  Andy Agar and the former Phoenix works site where contaminated soil has been uncoveredResidents' chairman Andy Agar and the former Phoenix works site where contaminated soil has been uncovered

The petition was set up by Silver Wharf Residents’ Association for the families in the tower blocks next Bartlett Park along the canal.

Its chairman Andy Ager said: “There was a strong, pungent hydrocarbons smell when the top soil was removed, tar-like fumes you get from road resurfacing.

“The smell was coming from a pool of black, dark water in the soil. Removing the top soil has exposed the contaminated stuff underneath.”

Andy and many of his neighbours report feeling ill.

“My eyes are hurting from the fumes,” he claims. “The smell is going into our apartments—people get headaches, feeling nauseous and even asthma is being triggered.”

Careers advice teacher Katherine O’Mahony, 39, started to suffer from asthma for the first time since her childhood.

She said: “I like running, but had to pull out of a half-marathon because I couldn’t breathe properly. I had to go to the doctor and was prescribed an inhaler.

“The smell is so strong you get a headache and my eyes sting.

“The fumes are in every room of my flat. This is my home—I don’t want to breathe in strong chemicals and not know what they are.”

Her near-neighbour, banker Joshua Cater, said: “I smell it even with the windows closed. I try and sleep but it keeps you awake and gives you headaches.”

Tower Hamlets Mayor John Biggs received a flood of complaints and sent in a team of environment and public health inspectors to investigate.

He told the Advertiser: “Developers have an obligation to minimise the impact of building works—something has clearly gone wrong in this case, so we have requested that the developers stop the work onsite.”

Council officers have now met the contractors to make sure environmental safeguards are in place to protect families from “the excessive smell and other pollution concerns”.

The foundry was closed down in the post-war years and left undisturbed, until developers finally got planning permission last month for a luxury block of apartments on the now much-sort after acreage half-way along the three-mile waterway linking the Thames at Limehouse to the Lea River. But land clearance begun in May uncovered the heavy industrial contamination after seven decades lying dormant.

Jack Warnes emailed from Craig Tower on the other side of the canal: “Right now I’m sat in my bedroom because it’s the room with the least fumes. Every other room stinks and I’m starting to feel sick. I would rather be anywhere else right now.”

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