Composting “Centre of Excellence” prosecuted for pollution

ADAS, the environmental consultancy privatised from the government's Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, has been prosecuted for polluting a river in Cambridgeshire.

The incident occurred at the consultancy's flagship “Composting Centre of Excellence”, being used for “Government and commercially funded research projects” into composting.

Pollution: (above) A pipe drained the polluted field into a nearby stream; (below) Samples of the polluted water (bottle on the left, compared to normal water from the stream) showed pollution levels 10 times as strong as crude sewage

Huntingdon magistrates fined the company 20,000 after a hearing at the end of October, and also ordered ADAS to pay 3,367 in costs.

The consultancy had pleaded guilty to a charge under section 85 of the Water Resources Act 1991.

The 17-hectare composting site, which processes around 105,000 tonnes of organic waste each year, was the scene of a pollution incident in early February 2006. The site is the location for a new in-vessel composting project funded by Defra's 30m New Technology Demonstrator Programme, due to be operational by the end of this year.

Environment Agency investigating officers described a local stream as turning “black, turbid and smelly” as 480,000 litres of leachate from the composting site was allowed to flow into the waterway.

The Agency said the substance draining into the Cranbrook Drain waterway had showed “the level of pollution to be 10 times that of crude sewage”. A mile away from the incident, the waterway was still indicating a level of pollution five times higher than crude sewage, the Agency added.

The prosecution came almost exactly a year after the company was issued an enforcement notice for the very same site for breaching its waste management licence (see story).

The lastest problem arose after complaints were made in February about odours emanating from three lagoons used to store leachate from the composting process awaiting use in the composting process. In response to the complaints, an ADAS employee pumped the contents of one of the lagoons onto a field at the back of the company's premises, despite the field having no waste management licence for such a use.

A pipe from this field allowed the liquid to drain into the nearby water system.

On the day of the incident, an ADAS employee denied to Agency officers that the liquid had been pumped onto the field, a statement that later turned out to be untrue according to the Agency. The Agency also told magistrates that there had been no need to pump the liquid onto the field, since there had been an empty lagoon available on the site.

Environment Agency officer Claire Magee said: “This incident represented a serious breach of ADAS's waste management licence and resulted in the pollution of an otherwise good quality stream. I hope today's result makes others aware that pollution like this will not be tolerated.”

Commenting on the case, the business development manager of ADAS subsidiary Envar Ltd, Patrick Pierrepont, said: “The pollution of the Cranbrook Drain tributary was a highly regrettable one-off incident which resulted from a break-down in communication on-site. At the time, we had just appointed a new site manager and this incident resulted from an employee acting in good faith but independently and unauthorised during the brief changeover period between managers.

Related links:

Defra: New Technology Demonstrator Programme

“We pride ourselves on our environmental compliance track record and I cannot emphasise enough that this was a very regrettable one-off event that we will ensure is not repeated,” Mr Pierrepont added.


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