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Seaweed stench in Birchington investigated by Thanet District Council


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Stinking seaweed is causing misery for residents of a seaside village - as some fear the putrid pong could pose a health risk.

Thanet District Council (TDC) is investigating the "potential impact" of the stench in Birchington after chiefs met with environmental health officers this afternoon.

The stinking seaweed along the coastline in Birchington
The stinking seaweed along the coastline in Birchington

Some residents believe a gas released by the decomposing algae is also causing walls, window sills and even jewellery to turn black.

Chris James, of Canterbury Road, says there is a nasty aroma every summer during hot spells - but this year it is worse than ever.

"It comes in waves and can last either just a few minutes or days at a time," he said.

"It's a really vile smell - at worst like rotting eggs - which can force you inside but it seeps into your home too.

"When it sweeps in at night can be so overpowering it's strong enough to wake you up and keep you awake.

"At first we thought we had a problem with our drains, it was so strong, but then you realise as you walk through the village the smell is everywhere."

These white doors at Birchington resident Gemma Louise's home have become discoloured
These white doors at Birchington resident Gemma Louise's home have become discoloured
Gemma Louise says her garden fence has turned black, she has black spots in the bathroom and her bracelet has turned black too
Gemma Louise says her garden fence has turned black, she has black spots in the bathroom and her bracelet has turned black too

He added: "Given it's an annual issue, you'd like to think TDC would have some clever plans in place but it appears not.

"I understand it's very difficult to clean up and parts of the coast are hard to reach, but it is going to really put people off coming here if it continues."

The seaweed is understood to release hydrogen sulfide into the atmosphere.

Acute exposure to the gas can cause headaches and irritation to the throat, nose and eyes, according to a study carried out in France.

And residents in Birchington have been posting on Facebook about suffering dizzy spells, headaches and coughs.

Some have decided to move away from the area until the problem is sorted.

Retired bin man Michael O'Flaherty
Retired bin man Michael O'Flaherty

KentOnline paid a visit to the smelly stretch of coastline this morning where retired bin man Michael O'Flaherty was walking his dog.

The 65-year-old has experienced plenty of bad pongs during his working life but even he finds it "disgusting".

Mr O'Flaherty lives just a stone's throw from Epple Bay where some of the worst stinking seaweed has accumulated.

He said: "A couple of years back a neighbour with a small digger and I came down and bagged up rotting seaweed for the council to take away because people like to swim here and it's not very pleasant.

"But this is far worse. During the heat wave the stench has been unbearable and gets into your house. All our neighbours are complaining about it and it's even leaving a horrible slime on our windows.

"I jet washed it off but it keeps coming back.

"The council really needs to come and clear it away."

The walls inside Angela King's house have become discoloured
The walls inside Angela King's house have become discoloured

Around the bay in cleaner waters public health researcher Angela King who lives near the clifftop was kayaking with friends.

Although not her field of expertise, she has been studying some of the environmental science to help inform her neighbours about what's going on.

"It seems like hydrogen sulfide from the decomposing seaweed is the problem affecting people's homes," she said.

"The gas is reacting with metal salts in exterior paintwork. The worst affected areas are old woodwork where there is underlying old led paint.

"It has even affected some exterior walls and chimney breasts.

"Many of my neighbours are affected going back several roads inland, including Shakespeare Road and Spencer Road."

A strange sort of slime is covering parts of the walls outside Angela King's home
A strange sort of slime is covering parts of the walls outside Angela King's home

Another Birchington resident, Gemma Louise, said her white garden doors, fence panels and even her bracelet have been turned black.

Cllr Rick Everitt, leader of Thanet District Council, says the council is talking to Public Health England about monitoring the levels of hydrogen sulfide and investigating any potential impact.

“Seaweed is a natural occurrence on our coastline and the chalk reef where it grows is protected by law meaning we are not able to remove as much as some people might like," he said.

“This year has seen unusually high levels of seaweed, no doubt exacerbated by the calm weather and high temperatures. We have already collected well over 500 tonnes this season, which is more than the previous three years.

“We are committed to keeping our beaches looking beautiful and every year apply for a licence from the Environment Agency to remove seaweed in line with Natural England’s guidelines. We have been actively managing seaweed from Minnis Bay this season as we know that the high temperatures have meant that the deposits can smell.

The rotting seaweed in Epple Bay
The rotting seaweed in Epple Bay

“We want to reassure residents that we are taking their concerns seriously. We will be visiting the more isolated bays in the area this week to see if anything might be possible in regards to removal.

"We would need to involve both Natural England and the Environment Agency in discussions if any potential options are found.

“We are also in communication with Public Health England about potentially monitoring the levels of hydrogen sulfide and investigating any potential impact.”

Read more: All the latest news from Thanet

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