A former tyre recycling company director has been sentenced to 14 months imprisonment and his company fined a total of £195,000 after illegally depositing and storing around 114,000 tyres at a site in Wishaw, North Lanarkshire.
Paul Cook and his Motherwell-based firm Earthmover Tyre Recycling Ltd, which is no longer trading, were sentenced at Hamilton Sheriff Court last week (February 27) for offences carried out between October 15 2012 and April 11 2013.
Both Mr Cook and the company had previously pleaded guilty to charges under the Environmental Protection Act 1990, namely depositing and keeping controlled waste on land without a waste management license over the period on Netherton Industrial Estate.
Officers from the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) first inspected the site on January 31 2013, after which a “vast quantity” of tyres, tyre bales, tyre crumb, plastic containers, liquid and solid waste and “other miscellaneous controlled waste” was discovered, according to SEPA.
SEPA said: “Tyres were stacked haphazardly, there were insufficient fire breaks meaning that there was insufficient access to the site for fire trucks, tyres were stacked too high and too close together. A licensed site would be required to store tyres with fire breaks of at least 15 metres. In some places tyres were stacked 20 feet high with gaps between piles of a metre.”
As such, SEPA said that the volume and manner of the storage of these tyres “would never have been licensed” as it presented a fire hazard.
Tyres contain rubber and a complex combination of metals, minerals and hydrocarbons, so when they combust a number of toxic chemicals are released.
The site was located 300 metres from Wishaw General Hospital and adjacent to the main West Coast rail line, numerous industrial premises and several densely populated residential areas – including schools, a nursery and care homes.
SEPA “considered this an emergency situation”, as if the tyres had caught alight the consequences for the local population and the impact on infrastructure “would have been severe”.
Police Scotland and SEPA patrolled the site several times a day until 24 hour security was in place. A series of meetings followed between NHS Lanarkshire, North Lanarkshire council, Strathclyde Fire and Rescue, Strathclyde Police and SEPA. The cost to the public purse was more than £437,000.
Calum MacDonald, SEPA’s director of operations, said: “The sentence handed down by the Sheriff in respect of this offence sends the strongest possible message to those involved in illegal waste activity.
“In this case, not only did the accumulation of tyres, and chemicals, pose a risk to the environment, but given the site’s proximity to residential properties, the main West Coast Rail line, and Wishaw General Hospital, the potential impact if there had been a fire at this site would have been significant.
“This is why SEPA, with support from the Scottish Government and a range of local partners, took steps to remove tyres and chemicals at considerable cost to the public purse. Investigating and tackling waste crime is a key priority for SEPA and we will continue to work with partners in the Environmental Crime Taskforce including the COPFS Wildlife and Environmental Crime Unit to challenge this threat.”
Mr Cook resigned from Earthmover Tyre Recycling Limited and left its board in February 2014. The company is no longer trading.