Investigations into the health impacts of fires from an illegal dump in Rainham have been delayed for more than a year due to “GDPR concerns” at the NHS.

Some residents fear that fires from a towering unregulated waste site, known as Arnolds Field, in Launder’s Lane, are causing sore throats, nosebleeds and more serious respiratory illnesses.

In August drivers had to use headlights to travel through smoke seen billowing from the dump, and residents have even threatened to refuse paying council tax over the issue. 

But investigations launched by Havering Council last summer, after the number of fires increased dramatically, are yet to confirm whether increased pollution is affecting local residents’ health.

Luke Squires, public health practitioner at the council, told a health meeting on Wednesday, October 25, that the council has already set up a number of air quality monitors but has had “difficulty” accessing local health data, which has only recently been released.

When contacted for comment by the Local Democracy Reporting Service earlier this month, a spokesperson for NHS North East London said “privacy and confidentiality considerations” have caused the year-long delay.

This Is Local London: Firefighters use ladders to douse the blaze in August, as the ground is deemed too unsafe to enterFirefighters use ladders to douse the blaze in August, as the ground is deemed too unsafe to enter (Image: Simon Monaghan)

This is reportedly because patient-level data is held by local GP practices, and a “detailed data impact assessment” had to be carried out to avoid accidentally identifying individual patients.

NHS North East London’s spokesperson said: “While this has meant the process has taken longer than expected, we remain fully committed to supporting the council to complete the health assessment and we are working to prepare the data for transfer as soon as possible.

“Alongside this, we are considering if any additional data we hold might also be helpful to the council.”

Havering Council is in the process of drafting a health risk assessment, an evidence-based document that will attempt to set out what the risks of fires on the site are to the public.

The assessment could also be used to take legal action against the site’s current or former owners.

While waiting for local health data, the council has also installed a number of air quality monitors to measure pollutants that could be from the landfill and more common particulates such as PM2.5 and nitrogen dioxide.

Early analyses have shown that particulate levels are high during the fires but that this is “short lived” and does not exceed legal limits, Mr Squires said.