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SOMETHING SMELLS FISHY

12-12-2006

It should be a simple process. You get a whiff of some foul airborne pollutant and call the council toinvestigate. But as Lynn Hawthorne has discovered, it seems you have to invent your own whiff-o-meter instead.

My home town of Wednesbury is currently being plagued by a horrible pong. Actually, it's several horrible pongs and I'm desperate to do something about it.

In terms of air quality, it's undeniable that our towns and cities are much cleaner than they once were, when heavy industry was prevalent and we burned fossil fuels in such quantities that ‘pea-souper' fogs were a common occurrence, but it is the increased use of chemicals that we can't see that is beginning to concern me.

My garden is my haven from the world, a little urban oasis where I can sit and think or not think as I choose and when I was suffering from extreme work-based stress earlier in the year, it wasa sanctuary, especiallyduring the glorious weather we enjoyed. Yet my retreat was ruined on a daily basis by noxious fumes emanating from three easily identifiable sources.

One is from a fast-food snacks company, which fills the air with the nauseating stench of cooking fat that pervades the house through open windows and gets into the fibres of your washing on the line. The second is a gaseous smell from a chemical company located some distance in miles by road, but not far as the crow flies. The third is a waste management firm sited alongside the Metro line, which turns out white clouds that hang about for hours and have the power to turn the stomach, so potent is the odour.

I contacted Sandwell Council in the late Spring and asked them to investigate the smells and the three companies, which I named. I was told that, as they only had three Environmental Health officers to cover the whole borough (really?), they were unable to take on the matter unless I completed a log.

I commented that the log would be unscientific, as much depended on wind speed and direction. It would also depend on how much time I spent outside, and how many windows I had open. Unmoved, Sandwell Council insisted on the log, so I kept it over a period of two months and submitted it.

My log was rejected (by telephone - I've had nothing in writing) on the grounds that I did not state the EXACT TIMES at which the smells STARTED and FINISHED. Excuse me? Did they reasonably expect me to stand outside in all weathers24-hours a daywith a clipboard meticulously noting start and finish times?

Er….apparently so. Is it only me that finds that ludicrous? I gave approximate times at which I became aware of the odours and whether they lasted for the morning, afternoon or all day. I also recorded the type of smell, so that it could be tied to the firms I know it to be. Yet none of this was sufficient for Sandwell Council.

It doesn't seem to be good enough that my enjoyment of my own garden is hampered or that my quality of life is being eroded. What is this doing to the value or my property? Should I put my house on the market and prospective buyers came round and smelt those stenches, would they continue to put in an offer? And what about the effect on trade in the local shops? Nobody wants to be overcome by fumes as they food shop. The representative from Sandwell Council said that they could only accept complaints from fixed addresses and not from people in the street!

The most serious issue of all is health. I'm asthmatic and I worry that the quality of the air that I breathe is detrimental to my health in both the short- and long-term. I was directed by the Council to a website which pronounces on the cleanliness of air (something in line with the pollen count that we get on weather forecasts in Summer), but it's difficult to find data on what chemicals are being pumped into the air every day.

I'm not sure what I can do next, apart from contact my excellent local councillor (although, according to Environmental Health, this would only hinder any investigation), so I am looking to you for advice.

I am also, dear reader, looking for someone who can nip into his (or her) well-equipped shed and knock me up a device which will detect these odious whiffs and record the EXACT TIME at which they are detected and for how long. Perhaps that will impress the three Environmental Health officers that Sandwell can afford and finally galvanise them into getting out of their air-conditioned office and doing something about it before I, and the other local residents of this area, keel over and turn blue.

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