Fire on the Purley Way: can you help us check the river?

(Image: the Environment Agency)

As some of you may have heard, since about 1am this morning there’s been a major fire at a tyre-shredding plant at Fiveways Corner on the Purley Way. At least 10 fire engines are still involved in putting it out, and foam and fire-water are running into the Wandle via the surface water drainage system. Five Ways Corner may be shut for up to 24 hours while the incident is fully brought under control.

Our local Environment Agency fisheries team is on site near the point of discharge above Beddington Park with booms and aerators, but we’ve just had a call from their office to ask if we can ask any of our supporters to check the river for:

  • how far the foam extends downstream
  • any signs of distressed fish or other wildlife

Any urgent details should be fed through to the EA’s incident hotline 0800 80 70 60: please also post them as a comment below this blog post so we can track them too.

Clearly this is in the middle of a working day, but any information would be very greatly appreciated!

32 thoughts on “Fire on the Purley Way: can you help us check the river?

  1. Theo Post author

    I’ll go first… flakes of foam up to 1cm diameter below the agitation of the weir at Shepley Mill (Watermill House) on Restmor Way, but no signs of distressed fish or wildlife.

    Barrie Neaves tells me that Thames Water are pumping about 40% of the runoff out of one of the gullies near the fire, so that’s reducing what’s getting into the river – well done to our local water company for helping the Agency get on top of this one!

  2. Theo Post author

    Update: the EA are about to oxygenate the river with hydrogen peroxide, just above the point where it enters Beddington Park lake.

    They’ve also put out the following press release:


    ‘Environment Agency investigating impact of Croydon industrial estate fire

    Officers from the Environment Agency are attending the scene of a fire at a waste rubber processing plant on the Purley Way in Croydon. The fire broke out this morning and staff have been monitoring the amount of water running off the site.

    There has been some visible impact on the River Wandle with foam used to dampen flames now visible on the river. No fish have been reported killed, however EA staff and Thames Water are monitoring the impact of the fire water, deploying an aerator and oxyjet as a precaution. Volunteers from The Wandle Trust are helping to monitor the impact on the river.

    Barrie Neaves, Environment Agency’s Area Base Controller said “Our officers have been working closely with the fire brigade to ensure we minimise the impact from this fire to the local environment. It’s very easy for dangerous chemicals to spill into water courses, and the River Wandle is vulnerable. Our teams are out there keeping an eye on the situation and will try to prevent the chemicals causing damage to local wildlife.

    Members of the public are encouraged to report any instances of pollution to our 24 hour incident hotline on 0800 807060.’


  3. Bella

    Another update from the EA:

    They think they know where the head of pollution is at the moment.

    The foam that has found its way into the Wandle has a high Biological Oxygen Demand (this is because the activity of microbes in the water increases to break down the foam and they use up oxygen in this process decreasing the oxygen levels in the water which can cause problems for fish and other species; the effect is greatest in slower moving water) and so the EA are going to introduce hydrogen peroxide which will increase the oxygen levels in the water (enzymes decompose low levels of hydrogen peroxide to form oxygen and water). This will be done upstream of the lake in Beddington Park so that when the flow slows down through the lake it will contain plenty of oxygen.

    The EA are not expecting any problems with fish in the Wandle due to low oxygen levels but are monitoring the situation carefully.

  4. Theo Post author

    EA photo now added to the blog above, showing a large amount of foam extruded through an old mill culvert at Wandle Bank in Croydon earlier today.

  5. Jane

    I just had a look at the river at King George’s park, by Lydden Grove, and it is still sparkling and clear up there.

  6. Jo

    Just been down to look at the Wandle near to Merton Abbey Mills. No sign of foam or distressed fish or wildlife.

  7. Tim

    . The time on some of these comments is wrong so I hope I’m reponding an incident today! (22/9/11)
    I’ve just got back from fishing the Ravensbury stretch. No signs of any distressed fish or foam.

  8. Andie

    Foam along the Hackbridge area leading through Corbet Close and running on! Appear to be no signs of wildlife distress as yet.

  9. Theo Post author

    Jane, Jo, Tim and Andie, many thanks for your feedback! Andie, how much foam are we talking about – small specks or larger chunks (or even a sausage as in the EA’s image above?)

  10. Dee

    Foam 6 feet high now on both run offs from Beddington park Boating Lake, makes for a very good photo opportunity! No distress noticed from wild fowl or fish as yet thank goodness.

  11. Jo

    Cycled home last night between Merton Abbey Mills and Culver’s Island – no sign of foam.
    However, this morning there are plenty of signs that the foam is working its way downstream.
    A piece (the size of a duck) on the Hackbridge side of Culver’s Island, lots of broken up pieces at the top end of Ravensbury park and some larger pieces about to float beneath the white bridge in Morden Hall Park. The weirs all looked much more foamy than normal – especially the large weir at the bottom end of Ravensbury Park.
    No sign of distress (although I was cycling at the time – so not a very close inspection).

  12. Theo Post author

    Thanks Dee and Jo – we’re also hearing reports of large chunks at Hackbridge from 7am this morning, a lot in Watermeads, and I’ve just seen one of the culverts at Shepley Mill calving out large icebergs into the mill pool there.

    On the traffic reports this morning, you may also have seen a story about what looks to have been a deliberate spillage of 3x oil drums on a stretch of the Purley Way very close to the site of the fire:

    We can only hope that none of this gets into the Wandle – unlike the red diesel spill in March 2009 – reported here – which didn’t appear to have much immediate impact but severely damaged invertebrate populations on the Croydon arm of the river in the medium term.

    We understand that the EA are still working on both incidents, and we’ll post more updates as we hear them…

  13. Theo Post author

    Many thanks to the EA’s Louise Sturgeon for the following update:

    Hydrogen peroxide dosing was continued on River Wandle in Beddington, London until yesterday evening. An officer has assessed the impact on the watercourse this morning and reported that dissolved oxygen are at a satisfactory level and no distressed or dead fish were observed.

    However, there are large banks of foam that have collected downstream of weirs along the river for approximately 10 km. We are working with the Fire Brigade to find the best way of tackling the foam to minimise any impact.

    The London Fire Brigade as still on site of the fire which is currently smouldering and will be linking in with their fire investigation team today.The London Boroughs of Sutton, Merton and Wandsworth have been contacted.

    Oil Spill – Officer is on site assessing any impact on the Wandle. He has not observed any oil as yet and will be continuing to monitor the river.


  14. Jim Duffy

    Lots of foam on the river this morning behind our house in Hackbridge/ Wallington near Wilderness Island and the railway bridge. It also had a strong petrol/chemical smell. Could find no tiddlers under the bridge where there are usually dozens. Also the ducks and moorhens have disappeared. Saw a kingfisher fly down the river but he didn’t fish! The foam has thinned out a little now and is in drifts by the riverside.
    Thames Water have sent a consultancy company to Wilderness Island from where they are testing the water. TW aso sent an engineer to our house who passed on what he saw.

  15. Theo Post author

    Thanks Jim – that’s great information. The foam at Restmor Way this morning had a strong burnt smell about it, but the petrol smell may be new. Please let us know if you do see any signs of dead fish, even if they’re the tiddlers!

    Big thanks too to Thames Water for getting involved and putting their consultants on the case!

    Further downstream, we’re continuing to get reports of large amounts of foam drifting down the river, both in chunks and in slicks looking like washing-up liquid bubbles on the surface. As ever, please keep us posted if you see any fish or wildlife in distress – or phone it in to the EA as soon as you can on 0800 80 70 60.

  16. Theo Post author

    Thanks Dave – yes, the EA are doing a great job!

    The latest view from their people is that the foam should be pretty harmless apart from deoxygenating the water where it’s covering the whole surface of the river (which is why hydrogen peroxide was used on some slower-flowing sections yesterday)

    With regard to the oil spillage on the Purley Way, the EA now believe it came from one vehicle but spread over a large area on the road: as far as they know didn’t get into the surface water drainage. The road is currently being resurfaced as apparently this is the easiest way to deal with a large surface spill when it’s slippery.

    We’ve now added a function to this comments section so you can upload your own photo(s) of this incident for everyone to see (please let us know what time you took them, to help us judge what’s happening where!)

  17. UncleBaz

    my wife took this picture at around 830 this morning in beddington park by the small waterfall off the main lake.
    Thought I’d share it….

  18. Theo Post author

    Great shot, UncleBaz… here’s another from Dee Hyatt (Friends of Beddington Park) around the same place and time…

  19. Jim Duffy

    Rowing downriver from the railway bridge at 4pm there were still drifts of foam at the sides of the river with some down the cut dividing the island. Foam at the weir came to the top of the weir (12 foot high?). Rowing left a trail of lingering bubbles. There was a strong smell of new rubber tyres which has given me a headache. Moorhens were gingerly padding the banks but not going in the water. Spotted just one adult duck where usually there would be many. Croydon Fire Brigade have visited the river at our house.

  20. Barrie Neaves

    Firstly, I’d like to take this opportunity to thank the Wandle Trust volunteers and the community in general for helping us to monitor and tackle this incident. The foam is slowly moving downstream and reached Merton Abbey Mills earlier today. We expect that it will reach the Tidal Thames by tomorrow morning. The foam is ‘very slightly toxic’ to the aquatic environment but, as has been explained earlier, the main risk is that it takes up oxygen from the watercourse that would otherwise be available to support aquatic life. We have Environment Officers on site monitoring the river oxygen levels and for any other signs of pollution. If oxygen levels fall we have equipment in place to re-oxigenate the water. Our staff will be on site throughout the weekend. Please remain vigilent and report signs of distressed or dead fish to our Incident HotLine 0800 80 70 60. Thanks again for your help. Barrie Neaves, Area Base Controller, Kent & South London, Environment Agency.

  21. Jo

    Checked at Merton Abbey Mills at about 2pm and no sign of any foam. Plenty of coots and moorhens in the water.
    Will be cycling back to Hackbridge / Culver’s Island shortly and will report back.

  22. Theo Post author

    Barrie, many thanks to you and your teams for keeping us in the loop – we’ll certainly carry on watching through the weekend, and may well bump into your officers on the river.

    Jo, thanks for keeping an eye out too… I’ve just walked down to Hackbridge… there’s a strong head-aching smell, and a sooty, oily film on the water, but most of the chunks of foam seem to have drifted downstream (apart from the ones still extruding from the Shepley Mill culvert) and the water birds are all swimming around happily. Even saw some fish topping… maybe being accustomed to urban runoff has its benefits?

  23. Bella

    A couple more pics taken this afternoon at Shepley Mill (the confluence of the two arms of the Wandle). The foam is particularly bad below weirs where the water has been agitated.

  24. Jo

    Cycled back from Merton Abbey Mills to Hackbridge this evening just before 7pm. No significant change to how it was this morning – some flecks of foam visible upstream from the white bridge in Morden Hall Park and large banks of it caught up in the weed upstream of Goat Bridge but no other sign of the foam. There is a note from the EA taped to Goat Bridge asking the public to keep and eye out and to report any problems.

    There were lots of waterfowl in the water throughout all the stretches of the river that I could see from the trail – including a grey heron fishing in Poulter Park.

    I spoke with a wader-wearing fisherman in Ravensbury Park who said that he had fished for the last two evenings and had seen nothing to be concerned about. He’d caught fish on both evenings and not seen any dead ones.

    There is, however, a strong petrol smell in the river at Culver’s Island and I thought that the surface of the lake at Corbet Close had a slight sheen to it. There were ducks and moorhens in the water there though.

    I’m afraid that I am away for the next few days – so will not be able to continue with my monitoring. I hope that there are no further problems.

  25. Barrie Neaves

    All, I am pleased to confirm that our monitoring run this morning indicated that Dissolved Oxygen (DO) levels have returned to normal at around 85-90% throughout the river. Although pockets of foam are still present these are dispersing. We will be undertaking a further monitoring run at 2pm this afternoon after which we hope to be able to stand down on site staff. Again, thanks for your help. Barrie Neaves, Area Base Controller, Kent & South London, Environment Agency.

  26. Theo Post author

    Barrie, thanks for this confirmation! At 1pm today the river at Hackbridge was running clear again with only the tiniest flecks of foam – still with a slightly burnt / sooty smell, but nowhere near as pungent as yesterday. Fish also appeared to be feeding above and below the surface.

    Many thanks to all who have helped us track the river’s progress through this incident. The next Wandle Piscators’ full-catchment riverfly monitoring session will take place on Sunday 9 October, so we may be able to pick up any deeper impacts then…

  27. Tony/Dan

    As reported. Large clumps of foam at Goat Bridge breaking up and running down by the ‘Cottages’. Although the smaller fish appeared to be feeding there was a noticeable absence of the larger fish seen in this particular part of the river. Further up the river (the industrial estate) no noticeable foam until the waterfall churned it up again.

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