Landfill Firm Fined £500K Over “Sewage Fungus” Outbreak
originally posted on February 10, 2017
A waste company in Cornwall has been ordered to pay half a million pounds over a string of offences linked to contaminated water.
The Environment Agency launched an investigation into how it was being managed at the Connon Bridge landfill site near Liskeard in 2012.
Heavy rain caused leachate (the contaminated water) levels to rise rapidly beyond limits specified by the site’s Environmental Permit.
In January 2013, following reports from members of the public, Environment Agency officers visited the site and found two nearby watercourses, the Widowpath and Connon Streams, smothered in sewage fungus for a distance of approximately 4km. Sewage fungus is a sign of organic pollution.
Inspectors say locals started complaining of unpleasant odours, caused by inadequately controlled emissions of landfill gas at Connon Bridge.
Investigations by the Environment Agency found that there had been spillages of leachate onto uncontained areas of the site.
Surface water had been contaminated by leachate, and leachate had compromised water quality in a groundwater drainage culvert beneath the site.
The Environment Agency says Suez resorted to unauthorised methods of disposal in an attempt to remove large volumes of contaminated surface water from the site, pumping it onto adjacent fields.
Officials started monitoring the impact of the leachate spillages on the Widowpath and Connon Bridge Streams and concluded it was the worst outbreak of sewage fungus in the area for 20 years.
Investigators also became increasingly aware of the impact of odour pollution from the landfill site on the surrounding community.
As the odour problem worsened, evidence was collected from people’s homes.
Simon Harry, of the Environment Agency, 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. The judge in this case acknowledged, in particular, the distress caused to the local community by the odour.”
Mr Harry paid tribute to local residents for their ‘forbearance’ and added: “We take pollution incidents very seriously and this case should send a strong message to all industrial operators of the potential consequences of failing to take adequate steps to protect the environment.”
At a sentencing hearing at Truro Crown Court on Friday, 3rd February, Suez Recycling and Recovery UK Limited was fined £180,000 and ordered to pay £325,000 costs after pleading guilty to six offences under the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2010 including failure to comply with leachate level limits specified by an Environmental Permit, allowing leachate to overflow from a leachate extraction point, unauthorised emissions of contaminated water, failure to comply with water quality emission limits, failing to notify the Environment Agency and causing odour pollution.
The sentencing hearing marked the end of a lengthy and complex investigation lasting four years.
The costs awarded by the court reflected the work that went into investigating and prosecuting this complicated technical case.
A spokesperson for SUEZ said: “Like many other landfill sites around the country, Connon Bridge Landfill 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 eleven charges at the earliest opportunity, co-operating with the Environment Agency throughout its investigations and the subsequent court proceedings. We contested the remaining five charges and these were not pursued.
“We deeply regret that, despite our best endeavours, we were unable to maintain full compliance at the site during 2012 and early 2013 but are pleased that the judge recognised that our overall compliance record, across our 211 operational sites (of which 11 are active landfill), around the country is good and we do our best to manage waste in compliance with our environmental permits.
“We have taken steps to improve leachate management at the site in the event there should be a further period of prolonged heavy rainfall. These include reducing the size of the operational area, increasing the use of temporary capping to reduce rainfall entering the waste, upgrading the leachate treatment plant to improve the efficiency and the volume of leachate it can handle and increasing the dedicated extraction of leachate from gas wells.
“We worked with the Environment Agency to bring Connon Bridge Landfill back into compliance and continue to work with the Agency as we move towards the closure of the site by December 2018.”