The following address was made to Hertfordshire County Council’s Development Control committee on Wednesday 22nd March 2017 by David Adam.
I would like to talk to you about the air quality and health risks. I’m speaking about this because I have a PhD in environmental science, but more importantly because I have two children who go to Bengeo Primary School, just a few hundred metres from where this quarry will be built. I have a bag of builder’s sand here – this is the stuff they want to dig up – and I bring it with me today to show you what is written on the bag: that prolonged exposure poses a significant risk to health. We know this stuff is a health hazard. That’s why the quarry workers will be protected by law and have to wear protective equipment. But what about the children at the school?
I accept the quarrying does not pose a significant health hazard to the children, but it does pose a risk. What’s the difference? If I tip this bag of sand over my head then that’s a hazard for me and a risk for all of you. Managing and mitigating risk is one of the toughest aspects of public policy, and I have great sympathy with those who try to do it. Probably the most important point in this case is that we know there is a dose response: the greater the exposure, the greater the impact on health. That means wherever we draw the line and set a limit for exposure, we can’t with any certainty say that “above” the line is dangerous and “below” the line is safe. The only way to be sure there is no health impact is to make sure there is no increased exposure. And that means to not build this quarry.
One of the maxims of these kinds of decision is risk benefit analysis. We all live and accept risk because we understand the benefits. But if you give permission for this quarry you are asking these children, who get none of the benefits, to take all of the risk.