Concerned Chirk residents win backing for independent inquiry into Kronospan fire

Concerned Chirk residents have met with Plaid Cymru’s regional AM and county councillors to express their concerns at the refusal of Welsh Government ministers to conduct an independent inquiry into the most recent Kronospan fire.

Julie Davies-Jones, of Chirk, said she and other residents felt that both Wrexham Council’s public protection department and National Resources Wales had failed to protect Chirk residents’ well-being in the past and that an independent inquiry was necessary to establish the facts surrounding the fire and other incidents at the plant.

She said: “Many residents, myself included, were left choking in our homes for days and have been told there is no available air quality/gas particulate data on what we were breathing during the peak period of the fire.

“This is why we have questioned what we see as the failings in both the event, the communication and the reaction time from both Kronospan and the multi-agency parties concerned with the fire. These include both Wrexham Council and NRW as they were among the nine agencies that formed the Tactical Co-ordinating Group. Mr Ian Jones from WCBC stated that there was not a key decision on an individual organisation. For this reason we feel the complete Tactical Group should be reviewed independently. Anything else would be a mockery and this is the very reason why the residents have asked for an independent enquiry.”

Mrs Davies-Jones has written to Lesley Griffiths AM, the minister responsible, asking  her to explain the logic of dismissing an independent enquiry.

She added: “As a community we are sick of telling Wrexham Council and NRW of our concerns over Kronospan and yet permits are being constantly accepted and we are told all is in order. We realise that Kronospan is a local job provider and we don’t want this to change but we do want them to clean up their act and be a good neighbour. We are also tired of people hiding behind reports of air-quality results that are completed at set times with Kronospan knowledge, whilst we live with the reality of emissions that are not being monitored and have our views ignored.

“When asked by a local councillor whether the accident rate was a reflection of Kronospan’s competence, Mr McKenna stated that Kronospan is competent. Considering on average one major fire per year for over more than a decade, I would hate to see what incompetence is classed as.

“We have been advised by the relevant parties that any smoke is harmful. We are also advised that wet wood is even more toxic. The latest fire started at 2am on Monday 13th January. I cannot comment on other areas of Chirk impacted but our houses on Lodgevale were filled with the acrid stench from Monday onwards. Surely there should have been quantitative data about what levels of smoke were present and its toxicity during the peak of the fire in the hours and days immediately afterwards?

“Instead the equipment was only installed on late Wednesday 15th (over 60 hrs after the fire started) and collected its first results over Wednesday 15th night when the smoke had started to disperse. The reaction time was shockingly poor and this failing was voiced clearly in the local council meeting. The response from WCBC was that ‘with hindsight things should have been different’. That’s not good enough.

“The whole process has failed us. Due to the prevailing wind direction we are particularly vulnerable on Lodgevale Park. That’s why we are calling for permanent independent Gas Met analysis (to test for chemicals in the air) and air monitoring of particulates to PM2.5 level around Chirk.  

“Results should be publicly available and as suggested by a fellow resident this should be the trigger point for immediate multi-agency action if required in the future. This would lead to more confidence that our health and well-being is being taken seriously and issues would be reacted to in a much quicker fashion than occurred recently. 

“Linked to the latest development approval granted this week for construction of a building to house two gas engines at Kronospan, we understand that some air Monitoring has now been agreed with funding secured through a section 106 agreement but it is not clear whether this is to the PM2.5 level and we see no mention of Gas Met Assessment”.

She and other campaigners thanked Plaid Cymru regional AM Llyr Gruffydd for raising the matter over the past six weeks in the Assembly.

Mr Gruffydd added: “This latest fire has been the last straw for many people in Chirk, including some Kronospan workers who live in the town and had members of their family affected by the smoke. The concerns about people’s health, in particular the impact on children in nearby schools, is very real and we need an independent investigation to establish what went wrong and why it must not be allowed to happen again.

“I support residents’ calls for independent air-quality monitoring that tests for chemicals and smaller particulates in the atmosphere and will continue to work with my colleagues on Wrexham Council to ensure the authorities – whether the Welsh Government, NRW or local council – are held to account on this matter.”

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