Homeowner's building work reveals nasty problem

Emma Woollacott
The garage where the leak occurred
The garage where the leak occurred

One woman's attempt to improve her home with an extension has revealed an unpleasant problem: the soil in her garden is full of diesel fuel.

The homeowner, who prefers not to be named, was alerted to the problem by her builders when they started digging holes for the foundations at the house in Histon in Cambridgeshire.

See also: Million-pound house 'ruined' by spilled kerosene

See also: Diesel vehicle owners could be compensated, suggests transport minister

"We could tell there was diesel in the soil because it was black and you could smell the fumes," one of the builders tells the Cambridge News.

"We had to stop all work because of the contamination and at the moment we've been delayed about a month. But it will take much longer."

The diesel has been leaking from the petrol station next door, which is apparently doing all it can to fix the problem - although it's been a slow and expensive process.

"We had to get hold of a special skip for contaminated waste, which costs five times the price of a normal one," says the builder.

"It means more money for the homeowner and it's difficult for us too because we've had to stop work and can't get our wages, so everybody is losing out."

However, the affected pumps have now been shut off and the leak is being repaired.

The Environment Agency is investigating, and Cambridge Water Company says that soil samples from the area aren't of serious concern in terms of human health.

However, this doesn't mean it can't cause problems. One couple, Luke and Mary Clough, say that three established trees died unexpectedly a few years ago.

"They were a considerable size, they weren't small," says Luke. "But about a year ago we knew we had to cut them down because they had all rotted and died. I was able to just pull one of them out of the ground and it was quite a big tree."

Where soil is contaminated, it is of course the responsibility of the polluter to put it right - and this can be an expensive process.

Two years ago, for example, Anna and John McArthur of Kent claimed that a bungled delivery left their house and garden contaminated with kerosene. It was so bad, they said, that the house had to be underpinned - and they've been trying to get £600,000 in compensation.