The representative of the owners of the Westwood Industrial Unit that has been on fire since Saturday (September 15) claims waste at the site was moved into the unit by the leasee who then left it there without the required licence.
The unit is owned by British Virgin Islands company Conservation Property Holdings, says their UK representative, Biju Ramakrishnan.
Mr Ramakrishnan said: “They (Conservation Property Holdings) rent out the premises. (The tenant) paid the first month’s rent and then put RDF (refuse-derived fuel) waste in there without any licence or authority.
“There was a meeting last week with the owner’s representative and someone who was interested in buying the RDF and taking it away but since then there was the ‘arson attack’ on Saturday.
“We have a reference number for the fire investigation.”
Refuse-derived fuel (RDF) is made up of largely of combustible components of such waste, as non-recyclable plastics -not including PVC – paper, cardboard, labels and other corrugated materials.
The Westwood unit was packed with 6,000 bales of the waste, according to the Environment Agency. Fears that the site was a potential fire hazard due to the waste in the building were raised in a BBC report in January.
And prior to that Thanet District Council officers visited the site in May 2017 and reported concerns about waste to the Environment Agency. The agency has confirmed an investigation was carried out and is ongoing.
A spokesman said: “This is illegal waste. Our investigation is continuing. We did serve notice on the operator in 2017 to clear the site but that was ignored.
“What we know is there are approximately 6,000 bales of waste and that is a mixture of all sorts of waste.
“We continue to investigate and to keep our legal options under review. We are working with KFRS and Thanet council and will continue to gather evidence of what we believe to be an illegal waste site.”
The spokesman said more notices could be issued or a decision could be taken to launch legal action.
The spokesman added: “We are providing support throughout the response and recovery phases of the incident by monitoring any potential impacts to air and water quality across the Isle of Thanet area.
“We will continue to work with partners to provide waste management advice on the classification and disposal options for the waste.”
Fears have also been raised over asbestos at the site. Although this is yet to be officially confirmed there is a Thanet council building control notice from February this year which describes the unit as a “vandalised building containing asbestos and possible toxic waste.” The status of the notice is marked as ‘pending consideration.’
East Kent Hospitals University Foundation Trust, responsible for hospitals including the QEQM at Margate, says there has not been a rise in people presenting with chest/breathing complaints over the last few days.
Crews were called at 6.20am on Saturday (September 15) to the blaze. At the height of the fire there were 80 firefighters, 14 engines and specialist vehicles on the scene.
Firefighter Ian Thomson, who was the duty brigade manager at the scene on day one, said the blaze has been fed because the unit was ‘packed from front to back with ‘flammable waste’ including plastic wrapping, cardboard and wood.
Acrid smoke from the blaze has covered Westwood and Margate, and even further afield, throughout the five days. Northdown Primary closed yesterday and remains shut today due to “unsafe carbon monoxide readings.”
Today (September 19) a KFRS spokesperson said: “Good progress is being made at the Westwood industrial unit fire, however due to the size and makeup of the fire, firefighters will be on site for several days to come.
“They will continue to contain the fire and dampen down the large amount of tightly packed smouldering waste. As expected, there is still lots of smoke in the area and residents and businesses nearby are advised to keep windows and doors closed.”
Public Health England would be the agency responsible for monitoring pollution and air quality and the Environment Agency, which is in talks with the site owner, says PHE is taking the lead on that part of the investigation.
The cause of the blaze has not yet been confirmed. There will be an investigation once it has been extinguished.
The tenant’s representative at the time of the lease has been contacted for comment.
Advice from Public Health England:
• People living and working in areas affected by smoke should stay indoors and keep their doors and windows closed.
• Motorists who have to travel through the smoke should keep windows closed, turn off air conditioning and keep their air vents closed.
• Some of the substances present in smoke can irritate the lining of the nose, throat and lungs, the skin and the eyes. Symptoms may include coughing and wheezing, sore throat, feeling short of breath, runny nose or eyes or chest pain. In general, exposure to smoke is more likely to affect people who have existing breathing problems, lung or heart conditions.
• People who are generally fit and well are unlikely to experience long-term health problems from temporary exposure to smoke from a fire.
• The very young and very old, smokers, and people with flu or flu-like illnesses, may also be at greater risk after exposure to smoke from fires.
• To minimise your exposure, limit the amount of time you spend outside in the smoke. People with asthma who may be in the vicinity of the fire should carry their inhaler.
• If symptoms persist seek medical advice by calling NHS 111 or by contacting your General Practitioner (GP). If a medical consultant is already treating an existing health condition, discuss your concerns and symptoms with them. In the case of an emergency call 999.