Teesworks - Did ignoring advice kill crabs?

Ignoring Advice(Edit)

Teesworks knew there was a major hazard to marine creatures on the South Tees site (COMAH) and were informed that before doing work on the site the hazards first should be removed (Environment Agency). When the advice was ignored when the first explosive demolition occurred then the crabs died (news item), yet the advice is still being ignored. Instead multiple different reasons for the crab die-off have been used to allow Teesworks to avoid taking the advice (algal bloom, novel pathogen). The result has been multiple subsequent marine creature die-offs (list of die-offs).

Why was explosive demolition or in fact any demolition carried out on the South Tees site before the regulated major hazards had been removed? Ignoring this advice allowed cheaper and faster demolition producing faster private profit from the selling of scrap steel. The advice didn't need to be ignored, as enough development space could have been created in a timely fashion by removing the hazards then demolishing structures only in the land that would be used immediately.

The first crab die-off was at the end of September 2021 (chronology of marine die-offs), logic would say caused by the first explosive demolition on the Teesworks site of the Dorman Long Tower on the South Bank Site. The explosion happened in the middle of the night on 19th September 2021 (BBC News), less then 200m away was over 1000tonnes of aquatic toxic materials housed in the decaying South Bank Coke Ovens By-Product plant and its pipework etc.. Of course the ground around the site is also contaminated with coal tar, benzole and other chemicals from over 100 years of coke production.

The Environment Agency stated that removal of these hazards "...should be completed prior to any demolition..." explicitly for the South Bank site as it is one of the most contaminated areas of the Teesworks site. The Environment Agency stated that their removal should happen as they present a major hazard to the marine environment as well as human safety and any form of demolition has the potential to disturb the places where these toxic chemicals remained on the site.

In fact above ground clean up of the South Bank Coke Ovens By-Product plant did not start until 4th October 2021 and was not complete until 31st March 2023 (Chronology of Teesworks groundworks). However, no work has been carried out yet to clean the ground of the coal tar contamination.


The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) classifies the Teesworks site as an upper tier COMAH (Control of Major Accident Hazards) site. This means that Teesworks was/is one of the most dangerous non-operational brownfield sites in the country. The examples of the types of accidents which can happen on such sites used by the HSE are the "Chevron Pembroke refinery (02/06/2011) (PDF) and Bhopal - Union Carbide (3/12/1984)." Teesworks is different to those sites, but presents hazards to the aquatic environment which are of a similar magnitude, as described in the HSE COMAH record for the South Tees Site).

The hazards to aquatic life and to human life are caused by the residual thousands of tonnes of toxic chemicals that were left in the structures on the site. Of course there is also a question of the many thousands of tonnes of toxic chemicals which have accumulated under the site over the longer than a century of chemical operations.

In 2019 the South Tees Development Corporation (STDC) made a planning application R/2019/0427/FFM which provided the proposals for the development of the whole South Tees/Teesworks site. The Environment Agency provided advice to Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council as to what need to be done to protect the environment in a letter to planning officer dated 9th August 2019.

The Environment Agency explicitly stated that COMAH status should be removed before any demolition was undertaken - "South Bank: Some of this area is within the area covered by EPR permit JP3638HM held by SSI UK Ltd (in liquidation). Parts of this area are also within a COMAH upper tier establishment. The operator of the COMAH establishment is South Tees Site Company Ltd. They are about to begin a phased decontamination project with the aim of removing contaminated residues in pipes, vessels, sumps and other structures with the aim of being able to demonstrate that the site is no longer subject to the COMAH regulations. These decontamination operations should be completed prior to any demolition or longer term restoration of the site."

Continuing Ignorance(Edit)

Teesworks has now carried out the final explosive demolition on the South Tees site (Teesworks News), over all the explosions 3,300kg of explosives were used (Teesworks News), about 20% of the power of the nuclear bomb dropped on Hiroshima. While this explosive power was targeted at the specific structures which were being demolished, they will have sent shock waves through the air and the ground with the power to damage other structures both above and below ground, and provided energy to move chemical contamination within the ground. It is ironic that the final explosion was detonated by Lord Heseltine, whose 2016 report "Tees Valley: Opportunity Unlimited" made no mention of the need to sell Teesside short by doing a cheap / shoddy development job or any mention of the need to cause a marine catastrophe.

What Would You Have Done?(Edit)

The first rule of safety says that if you are going to do something that is inherently dangerous then first you correct anything that may make it more dangerous, so if you need to drive on an icy day you make sure your windscreen is clear before driving and your tyres are at the correct pressure. Wouldn't you have applied similar logic to Teesworks? Instead operations have been made more dangerous to both humans and the environment, presumably purely to make the operations cheaper and faster.


Why have investigations found that other causes - algal bloom, unknown pathogen more likely? These investigations have been restricted in their scope and so not looked at the whole picture. After the first die-off Teesworks had a duty to report itself for having potentially caused an environmental catastrophe, if this had happened then measurements could have been made to confirm this or, as seems unlikely bearing in mind all the warnings ignored, properly ruled out the obvious.

Mark Spence's recent letter to Andy McDonald saying that land based works could not have caused the crab die-off, did not consider the demolition of the Dorman Long Tower as it was "set back from the mean high-water line (the river edge) by some 20 meter, and there was, therefore, no direct interaction with the river environment." In fact the South Bank site has many water courses which drain into the Tees and aquatic toxic material may enter via these water courses indirectly, but they are still very directly toxic to marine life.

What Should Happen Now(Edit)

All Teesworks operations should be reviewed in the light of the major hazards that exist within the site both as detailed in the COMAH status and the historical land contamination. All these hazards should be either removed or actively protected from being able to enter the River Tees or the North Sea under any conditions. Continuation of the current approach of cheap / fast development is likely to result in further catastrophic accidents to humans and/or environment.