Public Health & Regulation Manager
Kathryn has stopped her weekly postings, but you can still read her stories here ...
Kathryn Adderson is the Councils' Public Health & Regulation Manager. Kathryn has been in this role for 18 months and has been an environmental health officer for 25 years, working in Adur and Worthing and inner London.
Kathryn leads the environmental health and licensing services and is driven by a strong belief in the need for public protection. The Public Health and Regulation Teams help ensure that you eat safe and hygienic food, have a safe workplace, get a quiet nights sleep, and are transported by safe licensed vehicles.
This week I am going to share some news about an interesting project that my Team is undertaking with Southern Water and the Environment Agency to improve the bathing water quality at Worthing (measured at the sampling point off the end of Heene Road).
Currently the seawater here is classified as 'Good' by the Environment Agency and the aim is to get the quality to 'Excellent' by the start of the 2019 Bathing Season which runs May to September each year.
As we know, environmental systems like air and sea contain complex variables that influence outcomes, unlike closed systems eg a fish tank. However, this joint initiative has now pinpointed the main bacterial source that has been painstakingly researched by Southern Water. The main influence on less good water quality at this EU designated bathing water is that there are identified misconnections feeding into the network.
What is a misconnection? In this case it means foul drainage being connected to surface water drainage eg a washing machine or toilet connected to pipework that should ordinarily take rain runoff from roofs and roads, that feeds directly into the sea via the outfalls.
This 'foul water' needs to go to the sewage treatment works to be treated before it can be let out to sea.
To correct this, Southern Water operatives track back up the network using a dye test to work out where the foul connection enters the surface water network. When a misconnection is identified my Officers will serve Notice on the occupiers/owners of the premises involved under the Building Act 1984 section 59 requiring them to correct the connection.
At present the total number of misconnections is unknown but the initial identification work has already started and there will be further publicity on our website and Southern Water's website later this year as the project progresses.
Other lesser identified influences on seawater quality include faecal matter from birds and dogs and also breakdown of seaweed. In the era of CSI (Crime Scene Investigation) the Southern Water lab is now able to species type the DNA from faecal matter and conclude whether it is from humans, birds or dogs.
In the Worthing seawater case the main source has been identified as human, hence the main thrust of the investigation is the misconnections. That is not to say that the other sources can be completely discounted, and you may well see some reminder publicity on clearing up after your dogs on beaches ...
As you can appreciate, when the Team workload for noise nuisances starts to quieten down over the winter season (windows shut!), we still have plenty to be getting on with ...
For those of you who would like some further background reading on this subject:
- Bathing water enhancement - on the Southern Water website
- Beauty of the beach - on the Southern Water website
- Connect Right, stop pollution website
Photo: Worthing Beach
Welcome back, the answers to Kate's contaminated land mini quiz from last week on the effects of various concentrated chemicals on the human body are:
- Asbestos - Mesothelioma
- Arsenic Poisoning - Hyperkeratosis
- Mercury Poisoning - Dehiscence
This week I wanted to talk about 'Statutory Nuisance' and the Clapham Omnibus ...
Under Part III of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 s.79 there are a list of Nuisances that are defined as Statutory Nuisances. These include such matters as noise, smoke, dust, light and fumes or gases. They are Statutory because they have been specifically defined in legislation and a Local Authority has a duty to investigate complaints and to inspect its area.
Under section 80 of the same Act, the Local Authority has the power to serve an abatement* notice if a Statutory Nuisance is substantiated and is either proven to be prejudicial to health or a nuisance.
*By definition, abatement means the reduction or removal of a nuisance.
A Statutory nuisance is something that crosses a boundary between premises and materially affects the comfort of someone else's home. The most commonly received nuisance complaint to the Public Health & Regulation Team concerns Noisy Neighbours.
Now, you may be wondering what on earth this has to do with the Clapham Omnibus?
Well, it was via historic case law rulings that the establishing proof of a Nuisance not only depends on the prevailing conditions in a locality but should also be assessed by an ordinary and reasonable person ie not someone who is overly sensitive!
'The man on the Clapham Omnibus' is that hypothetical person in English Law. So, when my Officers are gathering evidence and witnessing alleged nuisances they are this hypothetical person and not someone who is particularly sensitive to loud noises or is sensitised to smoke/dust such as an asthmatic.
Noise Nuisance, as I mentioned, is the most common complaint to the Team and when deciding whether a Statutory Nuisance exists or not, the officer considers the loudness of the noise (in decibels), the duration, how often it occurs, and whether it is day or night. Clearly hearing loud music from a neighbour may be tolerable during the day but it would be less reasonable at 2 in the morning, when background sounds have quietened and people are trying to sleep.
Referring back to my original blog where I spoke about the 'regulatory continuum', I can say that in most cases neighbour noise issues can be resolved informally, either by negotiation or mediation. See the West Sussex Mediation Service website
However, there are occasions where a noise abatement notice has to be served and non-compliance can lead to prosecution in the magistrates court and/or confiscation of noise making equipment - see photo below.
When we do resort to confiscating someone's noise-making equipment to abate an ongoing nuisance, we apply for a warrant and enter the property with the assistance of the police and a locksmith.
So to conclude, there is always some give and take between neighbours and it is good that usually people resolve matters between themselves 'having a quiet word' ...
The answer to last week's poser is 'The Old Jewish Cemetery in Prague, Czech Republic'. Founded in 1478, it still basically corresponds to its medieval size and because of the lack of space people had to be buried on top of each other up to 12 layers deep. Today you can see over 12,000 gravestones, but there are many more actually buried there - well worth a visit.
As we found ourselves underground last week, I wanted to follow up with a related and interesting aspect of my Team's work and would like to introduce you to my guest blogger this week - Kate Giddings, who will tell you a bit more about contaminated land. Kate is an Environmental Health Technician with a particular specialism in contaminated land (MSc) and she is also completing her conversion training to become an Environmental Health Practitioner.
Over to you Kate ...
Playing in mud has the potential to be immense fun.
Hopefully, most readers will also know not to eat soil. Unfortunately, however, it's not just eating soil which can be problematic. Contaminants in soil can present a hazard to human health as particles in the air, through dermal (skin) contact, inhalation of gases, and through eating food grown in contaminated land. There may be physical effects, such as damage to buildings, pollution of watercourses, corrosion of services, explosion or fire. In addition to the physical risks, blight can cause stress, anxiety and reduce property value, even when the risk from contamination is negligible.
Land can become contaminated through:
- An historic use, such as a smithy;
- A current use, for example, a landfill;
- A specific pollution incident, e.g. a spillage or leak.
How can you tell if soil is contaminated? Good question. This is where the Public Health and Regulation Team come in. The job of a contaminated land officer would be much easier if it was possible to visually inspect a site or examine a borehole to ascertain whether soil is contaminated. Under the legislation (Part IIA of the Environmental Protection Act, 1990, for those in need of some bedtime reading) there are three factors which determine whether land is contaminated, rather than polluted:
For example, a field which has high levels of mercury but the field cannot be accessed by anyone, it means there is no 'receptor'. If this link does not exist, land cannot be legally defined as 'contaminated' and is considered 'polluted' instead.
Part IIA places a duty on local authorities (England, Wales and Scotland) to investigate potentially contaminated sites (excluding radioactive contamination) and where necessary, ensure that the sites are remediated. The majority of contaminated land is addressed through the planning process. The full contaminated land planning condition comprises four consecutive stages:
- Risk assessment - a desk top study to identify past and current land uses, likely contaminants and proposed users of the land;
- Intrusive investigation - sampling of soil, leachate, ground gas/vapours, water;
- Remediation - removing the contaminants of concern from the receptors;
- Verification - evidence of the remedial work and validation testing (sampling).
All aspects of this process should be carried out by a qualified, independent consultant and the reports are assessed by the contaminated land officer. When a report is insufficient, the condition cannot be discharged.
Investigating and remediating contaminated land is costly and time consuming. So why bother? It is essential to quantify what (if any) risk is posed to human health so that our districts can be made as safe as possible for our residents.
Mini Quiz! Can you match each cause to the correct effect:
- Asbestos exposure
- Mercury poisoning
- Arsenic poisoning
Something out of the ordinary came up this week ... It reminded me that some of our public health legislation has remained unchanged over the past 170 years. (The profession of Sanitary Inspector/Public Health Inspector began way back in 1848).
Under the Burial Act 1857, Section 25, I received notification of a Licence for the Removal of Human Remains, signed by the Secretary of State for Justice. There is a requirement that “the removal shall be to the satisfaction of the Environmental Health Officer for the district”.
This is a relatively rare occurrence and I have overseen only three times previously in my career. The exhumation should be “undertaken discreetly and away from public gaze and with due care and attention to decency”. In practice this means that the site is shielded by a barrier or a tent and the exhumation is carried out very early in the morning to avoid dog walkers - on this occasion at 6am, and yes, it was still dark, so there was lighting provided within the tent.
Exhumations are undertaken under licence because it is undesirable and illegal to dig up an interred body without a licence. The reasons for exhumations can range from the wishes of relatives to move the body to a family plot/different location, repatriation, redevelopment of ancient burial grounds, and for forensic purposes following a suspected crime.
From my perspective, I am concerned with protection of the living. So I would be looking at the Health & Safety implications such as risk assessments for supporting the sides of the trench where ground conditions are unstable, the method of lifting the coffin from the bottom of the grave to the surface, and the prevention of infection to those present.
You can appreciate that back in 1857 people were familiar with such illnesses as Tuberculosis, Dysentery, Cholera and Typhoid. Nowadays the causes of deaths are more usually heart disease, stroke and cancers which are non-infectious. Nonetheless, it is still pertinent to check the cause of death when carrying out the risk assessment. The coffin may not always be intact, depending on length of time underground, the geology and percolation of water and the level of ground water and, of course, the construction and material of the coffin itself - is it made of wood?, cardboard?, bamboo?, willow?
My most recent experience was up at Durrington Cemetery, and I must pass on my thanks and respect for the professionalism of the Adur & Worthing Team working up there.
For your interest I attach a photograph of a famous cemetery in a European Capital City. No prizes, and don't write in, but I shall give you the location in my blog next week ...
Hi, I'm Kathryn Adderson, the Councils' Public Health & Regulation Manager.
I am an environmental health officer by trade and have had an interesting and varied career working to protect public Health & Safety. My technical specialisms have been in environmental protection (pollution control), Health & Safety at work and contaminated land remediation. I trained in inner London and my experiences ranged from doing night noise patrol on the then infamous Peckham and Elephant & Castle high-rise estates (now redeveloped), checking launderettes for Health & Safety down the Old Kent Road (yes, brown in the Monopoly board game), and being the officer responsible for checking remediation standards for contaminated land under the Bankside Power Station, which is now the Tate Modern.
Photo: Inside the Tate Modern
'Enforcement' has become a dirty word over the last few years, and there has been a push to deregulate in the UK. My opinion is that enforcement of standards is a part of the 'regulatory continuum', ie part of my professional toolkit. The continuum ranges from education and advice on the one end to formal legal action and prosecution on the other, with mediation and negotiation in the middle - depending on the case in hand. To my mind regulation allows a level playing field between businesses and protection for residents. As well as having an enforcement background, I am also a trained mediator and this enables me to have an even-handed approach to resolving community issues.
Over my 10 week blog spot I should like to introduce you to the work of my Teams, and I may be able to encourage some guest bloggers to help showcase the great work we do. (Yes, I am proud of them!). As a taster; I have experts in Environmental Protection (Noise and other nuisances, air quality, contaminated land, water quality), Food & Health & Safety (scores on the doors, safety at work, infectious disease control, port health) and in Licensing (pubs and clubs, taxis and private hire vehicles, gambling etc).
My officers, although fewer in number these days, are still doing crucial front line work in our community. They are in your workplaces, restaurants, homes, and building sites. They also comment on the environmental impacts of planning applications, such as the proposed new IKEA development in Lancing - checking that enough emphasis is placed on the air quality and noise considerations.
So, as you can see, environmental health goes beyond the image of the white coated and hatted food inspector (although it is still that), it is far reaching and I shall reveal more in my forthcoming blogs.
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