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Episode 2

In Living Memory, Series 16 Episode 2 of 4

28 minutes
First broadcast:
Wednesday 08 August 2012

In 2003, a waste disposal firm in Hartlepool got a contract to dismantle 13 elderly American naval ships that had been rusting away in a river in Virginia. The ships had asbestos on them, as well as PCBs. When local environmental groups heard of the plan there was uproar. The vessels were dubbed the "ghost ships" and described as "toxic timebombs". It turned out that the Hartlepool firm did not have the required planning permission to dismantle them, and the Environment Agency told the American government not to send the ships. But four of them set off across the Atlantic anyway. They arrived in Hartlepool where they were eventually dismantled. A decade on, feelings still run high in the area. Should the ships have been sent back? Should American toxic waste end up in a Hartlepool landfill site? Or was it better for the ships to be broken up here than in a developing country with little environmental regulation? Jolyon Jenkins reports.


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