Biffa fined £105k after pollution reaches aquifer

12th March 2013


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IEMA

One of the UK's largest waste management firms has been fined £105,000, and ordered to pay more than £26,900 in costs, after decomposed waste from one of its landfill sites leaked into a source of drinking water for residents of Sunderland

Biffa Waste Services pleaded guilty to five counts of breaching its environmental permit during 2010 and 2011, when leachate from its Houghton Le Spring site escaped the landfill’s protective lining and into groundwater.

Leachate is a liquid containing toxic substances produced by decomposing organic matter and, under environmental permits, must be controlled by landfill operators. However, after the substance was found in groundwater near the Houghton Le Spring landfill site in April 2010, an Environment Agency investigation discovered that the construction of an access road had damaged the site’s lining system, enabling the leachate to escape.

Biffa had discovered the escape, but it failed to notify the regulator, which is also a requirement of the site’s permit. And, on a separate occasion, inadequate controls at the site resulted in a leachate storage tank overflowing and spilling the liquid out of the site.

Graham Donachie, pollution prevention team leader at the Environment Agency, said that management failings on the site had contributed to the pollution. “This case highlights the need for landfill operators to have in place effective and comprehensive operating and monitoring practices,” he said.

Biffa apologised for the incidents and confirmed that, while the aquifer had been affected by the leachate, there would be no impact on the safety of drinking water.

The firm has since undertaken remediation work, including working with the agency to design a new access road; continuing to remove and treat the contaminated water; and increased monitoring of groundwater.

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