The Peak District’s Blue Lagoon – and the toxic truth behind it
Every summer thousands of people visit the very pretty Blue Lagoon at Harpur Hill Quarry in the Peak District. Many take pictures and some even go in the water. With its white shoreline and striking blue color, the pool is a lure for visitors — but what many people don’t say is how dangerous the water is.
The vivid color of the water is the result of freezing rainwater mixing with minerals that have been cast off by decades of industrial quicklime burning. And the toxic mix of chemicals in the water has the same pH as bleach, which can cause skin irritation and even serious illness.
Quicklime (calcium oxide) is a chemical derived from heating limestone. It is used in a wide range of industries, including steel production, concrete manufacturing, flue gas removal, and even as a food additive.
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Harpur Hill, officially known as Hoffman Quarry, has a very long and rich history of quicklime production, with small-scale lime burning beginning in the 1600s, before large-scale quicklime production took hold. be carried out next to the quarry from 1835 to around 1952. production requirements involved the use of larger shaft kilns, which led to the use of a multi-chamber Hoffmann kiln, operated by Buxton Lime Firms Ltd.
During the Second World War the quarry was used by the RAF as a depot to store chemical weapons – the largest such site in the country at around 500 acres. Later, Harpur Hill was considered a good place to dispose of captured German chemical munitions.
The surrounding hills were used to burn weapons such as phosgene and mustard gas with bleach, sending plumes of acrid smoke into the air. Some of the mustard gas escaped as vapour, destroying nearby vegetation, DerbyshireLive reports.
The depot closed in 1960 and the area has remained vacant ever since. Incidentally, the site was also home to an RAF Mountain Rescue Team which responded to air crashes across Derbyshire.
In 1980, the Hoffmann lime kiln was demolished with the aim of creating space for an industrial area. Massive volumes of solid waste left over from burning lime were dumped in nearby landfills, creating piles of spoil contaminated with traces of quicklime and ash from the coal used in the process.
Rainwater that filters through the waste releases calcium hydroxide and in turn becomes strongly alkaline. Signs dotted around the site make it clear that the water can cause ‘skin and eye irritation, stomach problems and fungal infections such as thrush’ and that the quarry is known to contain all sorts of things you absolutely don’t want to swim with – including dead animals, droppings, car wrecks and piles of trash.
Moreover, despite its inviting Mediterranean hue, the water is extremely cold. Yet many still seem to regard the area as a popular tourist destination, causing a lot of frustration for nearby residents.
On a public holiday Monday two years ago, the influx reached a crescendo as the village of Harpur Hill teemed with around 2,000 people who had traveled miles around to soak up the sun, enjoy picnics, barbecues and listening to loud music. A petition was started for the quarry to be drained and closed, but the water was deemed too toxic to discharge and would pose a risk of contamination to local water supplies.
Last year, as in previous years, the pool was dyed black in an effort to deter bathers. Despite its reputation, the so-called Blue Lagoon is still listed on Tripadvisor under ‘Things to do in Buxton’ and the selfies with the blue water as a backdrop have been widely shared on social media Instagram.
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