For hundreds of households the terrible smell emanating from a landfill site near their homes in Staffordshire is affecting their health and lives. The BBC went to meet some of those affected.
Every evening after dinner, Annie Miles and her husband Lee Hughes have a routine. Towels are rolled and put down to block the gaps beneath doors and cover air bricks. Doors to the pantry and utility rooms are sealed with tape and an air purifier is switched on.
They live about 800m from Walleys Quarry, a landfill site near the village of Silverdale that has rarely been out of the headlines for weeks. Their nightly routine is to try to avoid headaches and being unable to sleep because of the stench, dubbed the Silverdale stink.
“It is like a silent invader that creeps into your house while you are sleeping,” she said.
“They call it a smell but that doesn’t really explain what it is. It is a toxic gas, and that is what it should be called.
“It feels like a hangover, you’re confused, you’re exhausted because you’ve had no sleep.
“It is terrifying, it makes you feel instinctively like you have got to get out of there.”
image captionAnnie Miles says the action being taken at Walleys Quarry is “too little too late”
image captionRed Industries’ work to cap the site was due to be completed by midnight on Friday
It’s a similar situation for Rebecca Currie, who also tapes up the doors to try to stop the stench affecting the health of her two young children who have breathing difficulties.
Her eight-month-old baby was born prematurely at 29 weeks and has respiratory distress syndrome, making him oxygen dependent, while her five-year-old son has asthma.
image captionRebecca Currie’s two children both have breathing problems
She said she had been told at a recent doctors appointment the environment was contributing to her elder son’s condition.
“They say it is not bad for our health but so many adults are suffering, what is it like for the children?” she said.
“The baby is waking up at night coughing and choking. It is unbearable.”
The smell, she said, permeated into clothes, fabrics and her children’s toys. “You feel trapped,” Mrs Currie added.
Local GP Paul Scott has previously told the BBC he is treating “multiple” people on a daily basis with nasal and eye irritations as well as mental health stress.
An eggy odour emanating from the quarry has been an issue for a decade and a previous owner said in 2011 it might never disappear altogether.
The stench hits you as soon as you begin to drive into Silverdale and can only be described as pungent.
The Silverdale stink
Jo Welsh, who owns The Hair Company, said since the shop had been able to reopen after Covid-19 restrictions were lifted, the smell had been “disgusting”.
“All the doors have been open and the smell has been terrible,” she said.
image captionJo Welsh and customer Ethan Robinson, who said the smell stopped people enjoying time outside
Ethan Robinson, who was having his hair coloured, said the smell had been affecting people mentally.
“You can’t go out, even if you’re at the park, it is there,” he said.
“You don’t enjoy going outside.”
Thousands of people have made complaints about the smell, including local schools and the Royal Stoke University Hospital.
A report from the Environment Agency (EA) said hydrogen sulphide levels recorded at the site had exceeded World Health Organization guidelines, but said any long-term risks to health were likely to be small.
Hydrogen sulphide is a poisonous, corrosive gas with an eggy smell.
image captionAbout 200 people attended a protest earlier this week in nearby Newcastle-under-Lyme
Hundreds of residents took part in a protest earlier this week, leading to the headquarters of the site’s operator Red Industries.
It has been working to cap part of the landfill site and this was due to be completed by midnight on Friday. Capping involves putting a cover over an area of landfill waste and can include using clay, sand and soil. It stops rainwater flowing into the site through the surface and prevents gas escaping.
In a statement, Red Industries said: “The capping engineering works continue to progress to the agreed plan.
“We would like to take this opportunity to extend our thanks to the local suppliers that have made this possible.”
image captionSarah Gibson said it was “shameful” the problem had been allowed to continue
Sarah Gibson has spent the past five months caring for her father Robert at his home near the site.
The 87-year-old has been diagnosed with lymphoma, but has always had asthma, and Ms Gibson said his breathing difficulties had only got worse in recent weeks.
“I do think it [the smell] is having an effect on him,” she said.
She passes by the site in Cemetery Road up to six times a day and said sometimes could even smell it at the house she was staying in, more than a mile-and-a-half away.
“As soon as you get past it you start coughing,” she said.
“There must be thousands of people who are affected… I think it is shameful it has been allowed to go on this long.
“They call it the Silverdale stink but I think they should call it the stink of shame, the shame of all those individuals who have allowed it to continue.”
image captionSimon Cooke, at The Ink Spot, said the smell was at its worst in the morning
Simon Cooke has been tattooing at The Ink Spot’s current location for the past three years.
He said the smell was there as soon as he arrived to open up in the morning.
“The smell is everywhere and it is horrendous, especially when you’re a tattoo shop and you’re supposed to be the height of cleanliness,” he said.
“The community has been very strong in pulling together and saying ‘we need to put a stop to this’.”
image captionThe Butty Box is on the main road through Silverdale
Julie Titley, who works in The Butty Box, said it was an “eggy, gassy smell” and affected the town through the year, no matter the weather.
“We do have the smell in the shop.”
“When it is bad, you don’t see anyone out walking.
“It wants addressing right away.”
An officer from the EA will be on site on Saturday to inspect the capping work.
image captionSchools and Royal Stoke University Hospital have complained about the smell
And, next week, a surface emissions survey will help to determine any further action it requires Red Industries to take.
“We are sorry that the community are continuing to live with the distress that odour causes,” a spokesperson for the EA said.
“We are challenging Red Industries every step of the way to account for the odour levels and the impact these are having, and to successfully manage odour from their operations”.
The EA will continue its monitoring of the site until August and the quarry site is due to stop accepting waste entirely by 2026.
It added: “While the capping work should go some way to reducing the high concentrations of landfill gases and hydrogen sulphide we’re recording, it is possible further work may be needed for Red Industries to effectively manage odour from their operations.”
But for Stop the Stink campaigner Nathan Wint, 31, it is not soon enough.
Mr Wint, who lives in Silverdale with his wife and two children, said: “You can’t go in your garden, you can’t open your windows because it will let the smell in.”
image captionNathan Wint has been distributing air purifiers to residents which have been paid for through donations
He believes the site should be better managed and those involved should communicate better with people in the town.
“It is a cycle; they collect the data, people suffer, then they say they need more data and people continue to suffer,” he said.
Mrs Miles wants the quarry to be immediately closed and taken under government control, with “proper action” taken to ventilate the gas, saying residents would “struggle to trust” any operator.
“I wish it had never been put there in the first place,” she said.
Related Internet Links
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.