In court: March 2017

9th March 2017


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Alka Desai

Fines for Suez and Imerys Minerals for pollution offences

Problems at landfill site costs Suez more than £500,000

After a four-year investigation, Suez Recycling and Recovery has been fined £180,000 and ordered to pay £325,000 costs for a series of offences in 2012 and 2013 at its Connon Bridge landfill site near Liskeard, Cornwall.

The firm pleaded guilty to six offences under the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2010. These included allowing leachate to exceed permitted levels; letting leachate overflow from an extraction point; and unlawfully discharging contaminated water.

Truro Crown Court was told the Environment Agency began having concerns about management of the landfill in 2012, which was run by SITA UK, a subsidiary of the global Suez Environment Group. Heavy rain caused leachate levels to rise rapidly beyond limits specified by the site’s environmental permit.

Officers visited the site in January 2013 and found two watercourses, the Widowpath and Connon Streams, smothered in sewage fungus for about 4 km. The agency said it was the worst outbreak of sewage fungus in the area for 20 years. Its investigations uncovered spillages of leachate on to uncontained areas of the site; surface water contaminated by leachate; and that leachate had compromised water quality in a groundwater drainage culvert beneath the site.

At the same time, residents were complaining about the worsening smell. The agency said it was apparent the site operator was struggling to regain control of the landfill. Officer Simon Harry said: ‘People living close to Connon Bridge landfill will not have forgotten the appalling odours that emanated from this site in 2013. The negligent failings of the landfill operator resulted in pollution both by odour and to local watercourses.’

He added that the judge had acknowledged the distress caused to the local community by the odour. The agency said the costs awarded by the court reflected the work that went into investigating and prosecuting the case, which it described as complicated and technical.

A statement from Suez said: ‘Like many other landfill sites around the country, Connon Bridge experienced issues managing leachate and landfill gas during the exceptionally wet weather conditions experienced throughout 2012. We have not sought to shy away from these shortcomings and pleaded guilty to six of the 11 charges at the earliest opportunity, co-operating with the agency throughout. We contested the remaining five charges and these were not pursued.’

The site is due to close at the end of next year.

£100,000 cost of river pollution

Imerys Minerals has been fined £75,000 and must pay £25,000 in costs after polluting a river with a hazardous chemical.

Truro Crown Court was told the French-owned company ignored the manufacturer’s warnings when it chose to let almost 500 litres of a hazardous chemical enter one of its pollution treatment systems in July 2013.

The company was cleaning out a redundant storage tank at its Rocks Dryers site near St Austell, Cornwall, which contained an estimated 474 litres of Jayfloc 85. The chemical is a flocculent used in china clay processing and is classified as hazardous and harmful to aquatic life. The manufacturer’s guidelines say the chemical should not be allowed to enter drains, surface waters or groundwater due to its toxicity.

But Imerys staff flushed the chemical out of the tank and into the site’s effluent treatment system, which includes a series of settlement lagoons. They believed it would be heavily diluted before entering Rocks Stream, a tributary of the River Par, although they did not carry out a risk assessment for the task.

In a statement, Imerys said it had made changes to its procedures to ensure there was no repeat: ‘Imerys takes its environmental responsibilities very seriously and has a good track record of compliance and co-operation with the regulators in what is a challenging and environmentally sensitive industrial sector.’

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