Defence activities since the first world war have left a legacy of land contaminated with chemical weapons. This extract from DIOlogue the house magazine of the Defence Infrastructure Organisation Issue 2 October 2011. Some four years ago, the MOD set up Project Cleansweep to confirm that there was no risk to people or the environment from the UK’s historic programme for manufacturing, storing, handling or disposing of chemical warfare agents (CWAs).
Extract from 2nd issue of the DIOlogue newsletter published October 2011
The article mentioned that the project Cleansweep report was due to be published in the Autumn of 2011. A FOI request made in 2012 asking for the report.
FOI Request 18 September 2012
Dear Ministry of Defence,
In the 2nnd issue of the DIOlogue newsletter published October 2011 MOD regarding project "Cleansweep" said
"A comprehensive Project Completion report is due for publication this autumn, with both the Health Protection Agency and Environment Agency supportive of its findings. A copy will be placed in the Library of the House of Commons as well as being sent to MPs in whose constituencies these sites are located, local authorities and environment agencies. “Cleansweep has been a resounding success, both technically and in terms of partnership working,”
Could you please provide me with the following information
1: A copy of the "Cleansweep" report referred to the DIOlogue newsletter
if the report has not yet been published
2: when will the report will be published
3: information about the delay in publication
16 October 2012 MOD Replied
"You asked for a copy of the Project Cleansweep Completion Report or if the report has not yet been published details of when it will be and information on the delay in publication.
I can confirm that the Report has not yet been published, as two additional ground water monitoring reports on sites, that are included in the Cleansweep Completion Report are still in the process of being produced. While I am unable to say exactly when the rpeort Completion report will be published, I would be happy to provide you with a hard copy when it is,"
It is now 2013 and as far as I am aware the Project Completion report has yet to be published..
When asked through a FOI about specific sites and the potential for chemical contamination, the MOD are using the delay in publishing the Project Cleansweep report as an excuse for not providing information about the sites detailed in the FOI request. The also feel that it is not in the public interest to publish information about these sites.
It is notable that the Environmental Information Regulations (2004) require the proactive publication of environmental information
Dissemination of environmental information the legal duty
4.—(1) Subject to paragraph (3), a public authority shall in respect of environmental information that it holds—
(a)progressively make the information available to the public by electronic means which are easily accessible; and
(b)take reasonable steps to organize the information relevant to its functions with a view to the active and systematic dissemination to the public of the information.
(2) For the purposes of paragraph (1) the use of electronic means to make information available or to organize information shall not be required in relation to information collected before 1st January 2005 in non-electronic form.
FOI request for Information: Chemical Weapon Contamination
Thank you for your request of 27 May 2012, this was passed to the Defence Infrastructure
Organisation (DIO) – the Ministry of Defence (MOD) organisation with responsibility for the
defence estate – and has been dealt with under the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act 2000 and Environmental Information Regulations (2004).
You requested (verbatim) the following information:-
a: Land quality assessments
b: CW Clearance certificates
c: Results of environmental surveys
d: whether or not the site is owned by the MOD
e: any other information about chemical weapon contamination at these sites;
at the following sites :-
1 (FFD) Little Heath Suffolk Under the
control of 94 Maintenance Unit
FFD 2 Melchbourne/Riseley Bedfordshire American FFD - Station 572
FFD 3 Norton Disney Lincolnshire Under the control of 93
FFD 4 Lords Bridge Cambridgeshire Under the control of 95
FFD 5 Escrick Yorkshire Under the control of 80 Sub Maintenance
RAF Macmerry located about 9 miles east of Edinburgh. In the past,
the airfield may have been referred to as Tranent, or Penston
While I can confirm that the MOD holds information within the scope of your enquiry, it is likely that some or all of it falls within the scope of a qualified exemption of the FOI Act. The relevant exemption is Section 22 (Information Intended for Future Publication) which provides that information is exempt from disclosure if the public authority holding it or another person intends to publish it at some future date, whether determined or not, and in all the circumstances it is reasonable to withhold the information prior to publication.
The exemption is subject to the balance of the public interest. By virtue of section 10(3) of the Act, where public authorities have to consider the balance of the public interest, they do not have to comply with the request until such time as is reasonable in the circumstances. The MOD has not yet reached a decision and I will not be able to fully respond to your request within 20 working days because of the need to carefully consider the issues involved. Our decision will be made as soon as possible and I will inform you immediately thereafter.
MOD has failed to provide the information on the specific sites, failed to publish the project cleansweep report and failed to disseminate environmental information as required by the Environmental Information Regulations (2004). The MOD is using its failure to publish the Cleansweep report as a reason to withhold information
Are the MOD afraid of publishing the information because there are significant problems with chemical weapon contamination which they wish to remain hidden??