Legacy wastes in the coastal zone: Environmental risks and management futures

Lead Research Organisation: Newcastle University
Department Name: Sch of Engineering


Historical disposal of wastes from domestic and industrial sources often took place with little regard for potential environmental impacts. Wastes were often deposited in landfills that can release potential pollutants to the surrounding environment. Such 'legacy landfill' sites are a particular concern in coastal areas where they are likely to be affected by increased flooding, greater erosion and more extreme cycles of wetting and drying as our climate changes. Managing such environmental issues is of critical importance, but currently we do not have a systematic framework by which we assess and understand the nature of the risks posed by different waste types in coastal areas. Given the UK's rich industrial past, there are a wide range of legacy wastes deposited in estuarine and coastal settings such as municipal waste, mine wastes, steel industry by-products, metal-rich wastes from smelting and chemical process wastes. This proposal brings together a team of researchers specialising in assessing the environmental risks of legacy wastes to (1) provide a national assessment of the environmental risks associated with legacy landfills in the coastal zone, and (2) provide a framework for effective management of these risks now and in the future.

The first part of the project will bring together various national databases (e.g. on location of landfills, mining waste, coastal erosion rates, coastal management plans) to provide a single map-based database of legacy landfills within the coastal zone. We will then liaise with regional specialists in government agencies and academia to collate detail on documented risks and identify high risk priority sites (e.g. those with the greatest contamination risk and / or those most affected by erosion or flooding). This will allow us to produce an overview of the different types of waste in coastal landfills, assess the broad risks posed by them (e.g. pollutant release, physical erosion etc.) and consider potential options for resource recovery from these sites (e.g. scrap metals that could be recycled).

The second component of the project will improve our understanding of the environmental behaviour of different waste types in coastal settings. Most risk assessments for wastes are undertaken assuming they will be in contact with freshwater (e.g. leaching tests that simulate wastes in contact with rainfall). We will provide a significant advance on assessing environmental risks in coastal settings by testing how pollutants are released from different waste types (e.g. municipal waste, mine waste, processing wastes) under a range of environmental conditions. These conditions will simulate the current and future environmental scenarios in coastal areas such as variations in salinity and extremes of wetting and drying that are anticipated with climate change. Crucially, we will undertake experiments that test how these wastes behave across a range of experimental scales (e.g. from beaker sized experiments, through skip-sized experiments, to measurements at real sites). This is important to have confidence that small scale laboratory experiments give us information on how pollutants are released from waste that matches with data from real field sites. Such information is crucial for extending the risk assessments completed in part one of the project.

Effective long term management of legacy wastes relies on many different agencies working together (e.g. councils, regulators, land owners, engineers). The final part of the project will therefore bring various stakeholders together in different parts of the UK to (1) evaluate approaches to remediation, and (2) consider management priorities put forward by the early stages of the project. A series workshops will take place in the different administrations of the UK to produce a national management framework for legacy wastes in the coastal zone.

Planned Impact

The proposed work represents a major step towards improved management of legacy landfills in coastal zones. We will work closely with a range of academic and non-academic partners to ensure the project findings are translated into operational management of environmental risks associated with historical wastes.

Beneficiaries include:

Government & Policy Organisations: Government (national & local, DEFRA & Environment Agency, Natural Resources Wales, Scottish Environmental Protection Agency); Local Authorities

- Improved information on risks associated with legacy wastes.
- Opportunity to feed in to prioritisation exercises.
- Long term management plan accounting for climate change to feed into Shoreline Management Plans.
- New policy input linking with the 25 year Environment Plan and Waste and Resources Strategy

HEIs in the network; NERC; KTNs

- Relationship building and knowledge exchange.
- Credible opportunities for securing funding.

Business Organisations engaged in managing legacy landfills: engineering and environmental consultancies (e.g. Royal Haskoning DHV)

- Improved information on legacy landfill risks and management options (reduced costs).
- Enhanced environmental reputation.
- New business opportunities in resource recover.

Environmental and wildlife organisations: e.g. National Trusts; Marine Conservation Society; Natural England; Wildlife Trusts; RSPB

- Improved knowledge and information on legacy waste risks for landowners and interested stakeholders.
- New advice to government.

Societal Organisations: Local communities; Recreational/tourism orgs. (e.g. River Trusts, Coastal Tourism groups)

- Reduced environmental risk.
- Enhanced natural environment and increased amenity values.
- Reduced risk to, and enhancement of, tourist environments (e.g. rivers and beaches).

Methods for stakeholder engagement and delivering impact:

Project Board: key stakeholders in regulation (e.g. EA, NRW etc.) and academia will convene to provide a forum for knowledge exchange and strategic development of the research theme.
Regulatory engagement: regulatory agencies will be consulted on a region-by-region basis throughout the national data collection exercises
Stakeholder workshops: will allow regulators, local authorities and consultancy interests to evaluate management priorities and approaches.
PR. We will communicate our science to the public through popular media (websites, social media, press) and engage with schools groups.
Publications & conferences. CL:AIRE will aid dissemination to the contaminated land and environment sectors. We will present our work at academic and industry facing conferences and publish in leading open access journals (e.g. ES&T).

Milestones and measures of success:

- Citation of work in government policy documents.
- Follow-on-funding / exploitation of know-how by project team.
- Workshops - attendance of a breadth of stakeholders representing different sectors and regions.
- Publication of CL:AIRE technical report
- Publication of publically available non-technical summaries of work (e.g. The Conversation articles)
- Destination of research staff - e.g. in KTPs to further support development of recovery process.
Description We have undertaken a national-scale assessment of former landfills in coastal areas to prioritise likely risk of pollution pathways into coastal waters. This work has been developed in conjunction with key regulatory stakeholders and incorporated the standard contaminated land assessment methods (Source-pathway-receptor models) to rank and assess site risk. The outputs of the work (see https://doi.org/10.3389/fenvs.2022.1045482) have highlighted over 3100 sites where there are tangible current or future risks of pollutant release.
Exploitation Route We have discussed the findings with regulators and had meetings with DEFRA on the outcomes.
Sectors Chemicals,Environment,Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

URL https://doi.org/10.3389/fenvs.2022.1045482
Description Site visit with National Trust 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Third sector organisations
Results and Impact Site visit to Coledale Beck and Force Crag mine water treatment system, Cumbria, with senior national staff from the National Trust. Purpose was to explain workings of treatment system, and describe influence of flash flooding from extreme rainfall on pollution dynamics. Outcome was raised profile of past and current NERC projects with senior National Trust staff, who are no engaged in ongoing research.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021