Registered Charity Number: 1037414

Willows, Acid Tar Pit Restoration Trial; contaminated land update.

June 21st, 2020 in featured by Noreen Shears

This first picture is of the site of our trial prior to activities beginning in 2018. The site had been left in 1978 and for forty years had stayed nearly the same as when it had been first deposited. The makeup of the polluted land was an old clay pit filled with acid tar; the residue left from recycling old sump oil by the Silkoline Company based at the time in the nearby town of Belper. The tars were made up of waste sludge and acid. The surface of the tar was semi solid, if one walked across the surface you felt the spongy nature of the tar beneath your feet, if you stopped you began to sink and acid (pH1) pooled about your boots. Around Belper there are a number of these sites, Firestone Hill, the Chevin Golf Course, Hazelwood Hill amongst them.

The project has taken advantage of several projects that the Trust has undertaken in the past that have involved treatment of minewater, stabilisation of dredgings, landfill leachate remediation and soil development from acidic wastes. The purpose of this work was to stabilise the surface, create a barrier so people could not easily access the tar surface, decontaminate the tar which is carcinogenic and can also burn exposed skin.

An independent study on our trial carried out by the University of Nottingham reported in February 2020 that the trial was demonstrating success on all aims. The site was stable, the risks of cancer had been cut, the oil tar, acid compounds were breaking down.

The site once a waste of black tar that destroyed anything passing over it, amphibians, and reptiles as well as snails, the rain run off threatening local water courses was now an asset to the area. The ecological benefits being enormous. Within the site frogs, toads, newts including the Great Crested, grass snake, mice and voles lived. Deer and rabbits were having to be fenced out. Badgers, foxes, and possible evidence of pine marten were noted.

The pictures of the green site were taken on 167th June 2020 when we showed the Trent Rivers Trust the site. The effects of the seven-week drought are no longer noticeable and many new willows are sprouting as suckers and from old lateral cuttings laid down over the last two years.

The decontamination part of the project is slow due to the willows needing to develop and grow but the process has also afforded almost instant remediation of the threats to health (carcinogen levels are now zero) and establishes a healthy ecosystem that demonstrates biodiversity. It has also rid the site of acidity with a pH7 being found across the site and removed all threats to the water environment. The skills of farming have been a necessity (thanks to Nathan Coop and Sofie Annable for this).

This is just the start of a clean-up of acid tars that needs to take place both in this area and in other parts of the country.

Author: Noreen Shears

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