Thursday 24 March 2016

Loscoe 30 years ago

I don't think anyone would put Loscoe forward as the prettiest village in England. When coal measures were discovered nearby, the weaving and farming community saw a huge increase in population as miners and the families moved near to the pit-heads where they worked. The last pit closed in 1970 when it was no longer turning a profit for the owners. In addition to the mining a large oval hole in the ground was excavated to service a brick-making facility, but this business was also closed in 1971.  The convenient hole in the ground was licenced for landfill shortly thereafter, initially for inert waste and hard-core but later for 50 tons/day of domestic waste as well. Domestic waste was/is any old shite that householders don't want anymore.  Disposable diapers, for example, appeared in Britain in 1976 just after The Boy was born and we were able to discard the bucket of steeping cloth nappies.  Chicken carcases, vegetable peelings, unfinished plates, old paint tines, plastic, lawn-mowings: if it would fit in the bin it was destined for landfill.  The onlt way this has changed in the last 40 years is that we have increased the amount and diversity of our trash.

The local council knew there was a problem with gas seepage in the mid 1980s as cracklines appeared on the surface associated with dead grass. They also recorded an increase in soil temperature as a) methanogenic bacteria converted solid/soiled organic matter into methane CH4 and b) methanotrophic bacteria scarfed up the methane and made a living that way. Methanogens are present in the rumen of cows and in the digestive system of mammals in general. They allow young men to set fire to their farts.  Methane is a potent greenhouse gas and it is being driven up by cow belches as more and more land is given over to feedlots for McDonalds; but bovine contributions are in the ha'oenny place compared to termite farts as they digest wood in what remains of tropical rain-forests. Despite the landfill, its smells and flies, the county council allowed more houses to be built around the site in the 1970s.

Late March 1986 saw a depression over the Peak District, the atmospheric pressure dropped precipitously 29 hPa over the night of 23/24th March. This effectively sucked residual methane, and other gases, from the depths of the landfill.  This gas took the line of least resistance migrating through fissures in the rock, old mining adits and any pipes it encountered. 51 Clark Avenue was, unbeknown to its inhabitants, sitting on a pool of methane which the freak weather drew up into the house until it was ignited by the pilot light of the central heating system.  Nobody died but the house was reduced to chips and the people were seriously injured in the explosion. Since then, efforts have been made to vent landfill and on modern sites you often see little chimneys burning with a blue flame. Occasionally, the methane is collected and converted into natural gas for industrial re-use but usually this is deemed to be not economic. In Loscoe's case, the microbes are generating about 50 cu.m of methane per hour but this is mixed with carbon dioxide and other gases, such a mix needs further processing before it is useful so it is flared off into the stratosphere. Despite lots of new legislation, it was 2011 before the first successful prosecution for negligence in gas management at a landfill site.

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