LANDFILL: A TOXIC TICKING TIMEBOMB
Almost four years on, the parents of seven-year-old Zane Gbangbola are still battling for the truth behind their son’s tragic death. How, in 2014, their small, beautiful boy went to sleep at night and never woke up again, still remains a painful memory that Zane’s parents, Nicole and Kye, have to live with every single day.
The Gbangbolas lived in Chertsey, Surrey, just behind the historic Lavenders landfill at Abbeyfields Park. The area is now a landscaped lake that was previously a landfill site dating back to approximately the 1940s up until the 1990s. Strict controls and regulations for landfill and waste dumping weren’t brought in until the 1970s, so it would be difficult to ascertain exactly what types of waste and contamination were dumped at the site prior to it being made into a picturesque lake.
Environmental researcher and consultant, Paul Mobbs, has written extensively on the the contributing factors surrounding the Gbangbola case. On the landfill site behind the Gbangbolas’ home, he said:
“What records do exist indicate a number of failures to control waste deposit on the site. Despite this the pollution officer from Spelthorne Borough Council has stated that ‘there were no contraventions of waste approvals’.
“What is more significant is that both Spelthorne and the Environment Agency appeared to know of the dangers the site presented – though they argue that any such knowledge was hypothetical since it was not backed-up by hard data from testing by the site’s owners. Some records suggest that there was a conscious decision by Spelthorne and the Environment Agency not to highlight the risks to those living nearby.”
In February 2014, during the worst floods in Britain for almost 250 years, the River Thames burst its banks in Chertsey, Surrey. The BBC coverage at the time, stated that: “all the evidence, says the Met Office, points to climate change”.
The flood water in Chertsey seeped into local residences and flooded the basement of Zane’s home. Zane’s parents bought electric pumps to manage the rising water levels in the basement, and also hired a petrol pump as a back-up in case of a power cut, but they did not use it.
During the morning of the 8 of February, Zane’s mother, Nicole, checked on her son at around 03.30hrs. She found him unresponsive, and his father, Kye had collapsed in a separate room. Emergency services were immediately called. Devastatingly, Zane was pronounced dead at the hospital. He had suffered a cardiac arrest. His father, Kye, also had a cardiac arrest and would spend three months in hospital. When he was discharged, he was left as a paraplegic, never to walk again.
The family were initially treated for hydrogen cyanide poisoning by the emergency services and there were traces of the poisonous gas in their blood tests. The pathologist didn’t take samples from Zane until three days after his death, and did not test those samples for another three months. Hydrogen cyanide dissipates from the human body within hours of death
Around 05.00 that morning, police and fire services evacuated the 17 of the Gbangbolas’ surrounding neighbours, citing that hydrogen cyanide had been detected and that there was a risk of death within 15 minutes if they didn’t leave their homes.
One neighbour stated:
“Two firemen came and said, “Zane has passed away and Kye and Nicole are in hospital.” I was told by both the fire brigade and the police that it was hydrogen cyanide.”
The emergency services were so concerned about the risk of hydrogen cyanide, the police were filmed giving a press statement, saying:
“Anyone in the Thame Side area of Chertsey who is feeling unwell and showing signs of vomiting, diarrhoea and fever is advised to seek medical assistance.”
Hydrogen cyanide is a deadly compound which was used in chemical warfare, and notably, in concentration camps during World War II by the Nazis. The Gbangbolas believe that the hydrogen cyanide leached up from the old landfill site just yards from the back of their home, and migrated with the flood water into their basement. The gas would have risen up, thus contaminating the air within the house: a deadly dynamic.
In May 2014, Zane’s parents said:
“So far, we have confirmation from four agencies that hydrogen cyanide was in the house the night Zane died and that there was never any carbon monoxide.”
Hide the Hydrogen Cyanide
But police and authorities continued to persist with the cause of Zane’s death being from carbon monoxide poisoning, which they claimed emanated from the petrol-powered water pump at the family’s riverside home, even though the Gbangbolas did not use that particular machine – it was only there as a back-up in case of a power cut. This angle diverted the awful truth away from the hydrogen cyanide horror.
The coroner was passed a report from the Environment Agency, who refused to test the cyanide on the upper levels of Zane’s house – the toxicity was deemed too great a risk, so the Fire Brigade took samples.
The levels of cyanide that were present were lethal levels; up to 25,000 parts per million (ppm) present on the upper floors of Zanes’s home. Just 2 ppm is a level that is high enough to kill a person, so it’s very clear that a colossal, deadly amount of toxic gas was circulating the Gbangbolas’ home on the morning of Zane’s death and Kye’s life-changing injury.
The National Emergency Incident Logbook contained the 25,000ppm recording and cited that this triggered an emergency COBRA meeting on the day of Zane’s death. And then a slurry of redactions followed.
Why was this and other critical information withheld from the public?
Why were these lethal hydrogen cyanide levels not part of the critical evidence at Zane’s inquiry?
Why has there been a cover-up of the truth behind this tragedy?
Why have the authorities sought to divert the cause of death and paralysis away from hydrogen cyanide poisoning and towards carbon monoxide as the root factor?
There are too many questions and not enough adequate answers for Zane’s parents and for the transparency that the general public require. Shockingly, during the quest for a “full and fearless” investigation into Zane’s death, the Gbangbolas were denied legal aid as their case was stated not to be “in the public interest”. The truth about Zane has been thwarted by the authorities at every opportunity.
Andy Burnham, the Mayor of Manchester, who was at the time, the Shadow Home Secretary, spoke about the case, saying:
“I met Nicole and Kye and heard about the tragic death of Zane. My alarm bells started ringing. Given that so many public bodies were involved, how could this family have been denied legal aid?
“But worse was to come at the inquest. Witnesses crucial to the family’s case were simply not called. Evidence relating to the family’s concerns about cyanide from a local landfill was ruled out.
“One of the QCs even admitted in open court that his aim was to ‘discredit the family’.”
A Poisonous Inheritance
The legacy left by the many historic landfill sites, now transformed into new areas, could be a dirty and dangerous crisis that the public are unaware of. Considering that 80% of the British population lives within 2km of a landfill, according to a 2001 study in the British Medical Journal, the problem would be widespread and unknown. Add to this, other new intentions of mass dangerous waste disposal – nuclear and fracking – suggests that urgent action now needs to be taken.
Joe Corré from Talk Fracking, has serious concerns about the fracking industry’s waste disposal methods:
“With fracking, one of the major problems is how the industry disposes of or treats the toxic waste they produce in huge volumes.
“Firstly, they inject as much of it as they can back down the well (this process is what causes the earthquakes).
“Once they have exhausted that well and leave it there as they move on to drill another well, that can leak out over time as the well casing deteriorates.
“The rest of the fluid is then sent to specialist treatment works (we don’t have any capable locations for this at the moment) where the fluid is separated into the less-toxic watery fluid which they want to release into the environment.The highly-concentrated toxic sludge which – guess what – can only go into landfill (in the UK, we are already over-capacity in landfill) and will create toxic ticking time-bombs all over the country that can create exactly the same kind of situation that killed little Zane and left his dad paralysed.”
We urgently need to destroy the flaky myth that the UK’s regulatory bodies and authorities are fit for purpose. Rhetoric about ‘gold-standard, robust regulations’ has worn beyond believability, evidenced by repeated breaches of big business and industry lapses, with no remedial action to prevent such violations from occurring again. Painfully tragic cases such as the death of young Zane illustrate this fact.
Moreover, the truth about what happened to the Gbangbola family should be properly investigated with full transparency, minus the authority cover-ups that have followed
Zane’s parents deserve the full truth about their son’s death. Anything less is an insult to his innocent memory.
*Please visit Truth About Zane to learn more. A petition to the Environment Agency, Spelthorne Borough Council, and the Prime Minister calling for an ‘Investigation and Independent Panel Inquiry into the Death of 7-year-old Zane’ can be found here.
Header image from Truth About Zane.