Lawyers acting on behalf of local five-year old Mathew Richards, whose health doctors say will not recover unless he has access to clean air, are seeking a judicial review and a mandatory court order requiring the Environment Agency (EA) to take “effective measures” to remove the risk to his health and his family’s home posed by hydrogen sulphide (H2S) emissions from the landfill.
They are also seeking a declaration that the EA "failed to properly inform itself about the safe levels of H2S emissions... for children such as Mathew".
They argued that the EA’s failure to act over the quarry was in breach of Mathew's rights to life and to private and family life under the European Convention on Human Rights.
Lawyers acting on behalf of the EA argued there was a public interest in keeping the landfill running and that there is not a real and immediate risk to Mathew’s life.
Mathew’s barrister Ian Wise QC told the High Court on Thursday: “People are absolutely desperate. Residents aren’t worried about World Health Organisation limits and permits, they just want this to stop so they can live a normal life.”
He noted that while the EA claimed the number of complaints had decreased slightly in recent weeks, they are still “dwarfed by the number of complaints from all the other sites regulated by the EA put together”.
In one testimony read out at court, a resident said: “Such is the vile smell from the quarry that my wife and I are looking to move from our home of 33 years”.
“This is a community in crisis that feels abandoned by the EA,” said Wise.
The court also heard an extract from a letter from Mathew’s consultant in which he said Mathew’s chest had been “particularly bad from the sulphurous fumes emanating from a local landfill”.
The case follows a report published last month, in which Dr Ian Sinah, consultant respiratory paediatrician at Alder Hey Hospital, said the continued exposure to H2S from the landfill will mean that Mathew's life expectancy will inevitably be shortened”.
Speaking at the hearing, which was extended into a third day on Friday, Dr Sinha said exposure to H2S could impair a person's immune system, and that "any low-dose exposure will be particularly harmful to children with problems like Mathew".
"There's a way for him to recover and it's not by breathing air that's polluted," he said.
However, Professor Sir Colin Berry, a histopathologist and toxicologist, called to give evidence on behalf of the operators of Walleys Quarry, said the studies cited by Dr Sinha pointed to "association" but not evidence of "causation" of problems.
EA lawyers said there was a public interest in allowing the landfill to continue to operate and to fulfill its purpose, which is to receive waste, so that the quarry could be restored in 10-15 years time.
“This isn’t just a simple case of setting off Mathew's undoubted interests against for example the commercial interests of the landfill. There is a public interest in the requirements of the planning permission being fulfilled,” they argued.
Justice Fordham, who is presiding over the case, said he was “aware of the urgency of the case” but would not give an indication as to when he would deliver his judgment.