The operators of one of the UK's largest anaerobic digestion plants have been ordered to pay almost £30,000 in fines and costs for polluting a Somerset stream with liquid waste in a case brought by the Environment Agency.
The liquid, known as digestate, escaped from a storage lagoon at Swang Farm, Cannington near Bridgwater where the defendants, Cannington Enterprises Ltd, operate an anaerobic digester producing electricity and digestate for spreading on farmland as a fertiliser.
Electricity generated at the plant is sold to the Grid and is also used at the site.
On February 15, 2012 a member of the public reported that a nearby ditch was full of ‘green slime’. Agency officers visited Swang Farm and found the pollution had come from a pipe beside three large digestate storage lagoons.
The pipe had broken free while digestate was being pumped from the anaerobic digestion plant. The pollution flowed into a trench and eventually into a stream which flows into the River Parrett. Approximately 60 tonnes of liquid digestate was lost during the incident. Liquid digestate causes de-oxygenation and can kill fish and invertebrates. Samples taken from the stream showed it was ‘grossly polluted’.
The anaerobic digestion plant began operating in 2010. In 2011 Cannington Enterprises Ltd applied to the Environment Agency to increase the amount of material it could handle to 100,000 tonnes a year.
The variation was approved and the site started taking in food wastes including animal by-products and segregated household wastes. The expansion of the business required the installation of three large digestate storage lagoons to allow the storage of digestate prior to it being spread on surrounding farmland. Approximately 100 tonnes of liquid digestate is pumped to the lagoons each day.
‘Poor site management by the operators resulted in a highly polluting liquid digestate escaping from a lagoon and into a local stream. We have taken strong enforcement action and matters have improved considerably since this pollution incident, but we will continue to closely regulate the plant and take further action if necessary,’ said Tim Loveday for the Environment Agency.
In a hearing at Taunton Magistrates’ Court, Cannington Enterprises Ltd, of Swang Farm, Cannington, Somerset, was fined a total of £25,000 and ordered to pay £4,500 costs after pleading guilty to two charges under the Environmental Permitting Regulations 2010 including causing pollution and storing waste outside a permitted area.
A Director of the company, Mr Tim Roe, was fined £2,500 and ordered to pay £1,000 costs after he also pleaded guilty to a further charge under the Environmental Permitting regulations 2010.
Magistrates said the fines reflected the seriousness of the offence and the fact the pollution could have had ‘disasterous’ consequences had it not been detected as early as it was. The bench recognised the company acted quickly to contain the aftermath of the pollution.
Anaerobic digestion of food and other organic wastes is a rapidly expanding sector of the waste industry that produces energy and helps reduce the amount of waste going to landfill. However, there are significant environmental risks as well as benefits and it is essential site operators fully comply with their permits to protect the environment.