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Pat Thomas

Welsh Identity and the Scandal of Brofiscin Quarry

By Pat Thomas, 26/11/17 News
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Actor Michael Sheen returned to Wales recently to give the Annual Raymond Williams Memorial Lecture 2017.  It was a really stirring talk on identity, history and the destructive power of the industrial military complex and the loss of regional journalism. In it he also devotes a significant amount of time to the Ecologist’s reporting on the contamination of Brofiscin Quarry.

Brofiscin is where Monsanto and others dumped an astonishing amount of toxic waste over many years, poisoning the land, water, animals and people for generations. It is the most polluted place in Britain.

As I wrote at the time:

“Exactly what lies at the bottom of Brofiscin quarry is a mystery but surveys into its contents have turned up an unholy mix of substances including: acrylic polyester, aldehyde, aluminium, arsenic, barium, calcium and zinc-based petroleum additives, butynol, calcium carbide sweepings, calcium chloride, chromium VI, cleaning solvents (including xylol, butanols, white spirits, styrene and methylene chlorides), copper, distillation residues (containing aniline and surfactants), dry matter products, ethylene dichloride, iron, lead, lime slurry, magnesium, manganese, organophosphorus compounds, phenols, plastic manufacturing wastes, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), residues of high molecular chlorinated hydrocarbons, resins (various) (rubbers (various) sodium, sulphur, tar, trichloroethylene, vanadium, wood chippings and zinc.

“Most chemical safety tests set standards for single substances. Yet in our society, human exposure to chemicals, be it environmental or occupational, is rarely limited to a single chemical, rather, people are exposed to a myriad of chemicals through their lifetime. Unfortunately not only is there a lack of knowledge concerning the dangers of these real-life mixtures, and how they might interact in biological systems, there is also limited technology to help scientists understand how these mixtures behave in the body and in the environment.

Such chemicals can have an additive effect, which means each chemical exposure simply adds its own toxicity to the mix (essentially 1+1=3). Or they can have a potentiating effect where a chemical that is normally thought to be benign or inert appears to increase the effect of another chemical (thus 0+1=3).

“We know what chemicals went into Brofiscin, but we do not know what entirely new chemical compounds may have formed as a result. The admixture has never been studied and indeed may never be studied. As a result Brofiscin is the most contaminated place in Britain in part because of the tonnage of chemicals so carelessly dumped there, but also because of the unknown chemicals that are forming from those mixtures.”

I was very proud to have been the Ecologist editor while this investigation took place and grateful for Michael’s comments that it was the most ‘authoritative’  account of this disgraceful affair.  It certainly was – at the time no other media outlet would touch such a toxic story and those that eventually did relied on our work for information.

Wales is a beautiful country that faces enormous socioeconomic, health and environmental challenges. It’s a scandal that after all these years this toxic waste dump has still not been cleaned up; the UK Environment Agency has been gutless and toothless and Monsanto still refuses to accept liability for its actions. It’s great to see the story be given some air again.

You can see Michael’s lecture, in its entirety below.



  • Read the full text of the lecture here.
  • See more on this site at the links below