THE world’s leading whisky company, Diageo, will be named as one of Scotland’s biggest polluters in a new analysis of data from the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa).
Diageo owns 150 brands, with whiskys including Bells, J&B and Johnnie Walker, as well as other big name drinks such as Guinness, Baileys and Smirnoff. It also owns the Gleneagles Hotel and was a sponsor of the G8 summit of world leaders there in July.
But now the Sunday Herald can reveal that the company’s distillery at Cameronbridge, near Leven in Fife, pumps more carbon pollution into the sea than any other manufacturing plant in Scotland. The plant also tops the league for phosphorus emissions.
According to Sepa, carbon pollution can kill fish and other aquatic animals by depriving them of oxygen. Excess phosphorus triggers the growth of algal blooms which can choke plants, fish and other wildlife.
The report, to be published on Tuesday, will list Diageo’s distillery as a major polluter, alongside BP oil plants in Grangemouth and Shetland, ScottishPower’s coal stations at Longannet and Cockenzie on the Firth of Forth, and Lafarge’s cement works near Dunbar in East Lothian.
The report has been compiled by the Environmental Data Services (Ends) journal from a pollution database supplied by Sepa in response to a freedom of information request. It shows that in 2004, the Diageo plant discharged 12,500 tonnes of “total organic carbon” and 624 tonnes of phosphorus into the Firth of Forth.
The report also lists sewage works around the country as high dischargers of carbon wastes. It names BP as a major source of benzene and volatile organic compounds, which can trigger cancers, and ScottishPower and Lafarge as the biggest sources of sulphur oxides, which cause acid rain.
Duncan McLaren, chief executive of Friends of the Earth Scotland, said: “Many will be surprised to learn that a company such as Diageo is to be found on a list of Scotland’s top dischargers of pollution.
“Perhaps the shock of finding itself with only sewage plants for company will spur Diageo on to ensure it cuts its emissions.”
Diageo, which has its global headquarters in London, had a turnover last year of £9 billion and made a worldwide profit of almost £2bn. It describes itself as “the world’s leading premium drinks business” and operates 30 distilleries in Scotland, employing 3800 people.
According to the company, the pollution from its Cameronbridge grain distillery doesn’t harm the environment. It is the liquid residues from the natural cereals and yeast used to make blended whiskys such as Bells.
A Diageo spokeswoman said: “Studies have shown that such natural material is taken up in the marine food chain and can be beneficial to marine life.”
The material has been released into the Firth of Forth through a long pipeline with Sepa’s approval since 1998, she said. “Cameronbridge distillery operates to Sepa-defined consent levels, which are closely monitored to ensure ongoing compliance.”
Diageo initially said that the pollution figures on the Sepa database were 1000 times too high. But it later accepted that the amounts of total organic carbon and phosphorus were correct, though there was an error with a figure for nitrogen.
The Sunday Herald also uncovered a mistake in the carbon pollution figures from sewage works supplied by Scottish Water. Instead of saying how much pollution the plants discharged, the utility had estimated how much waste water it treated.
As a result, the figures for sewage pollution in Sepa’s database are about 10 times too high. Scottish Water’s spokesman, Jason Rose, said: “As this was our first year, this wasn’t picked up in either our or Sepa’s auditing process. We are discussing with Sepa ways to improve the calculations.”
The Ends report also criticises the Scottish Pollution Release Inventory, recently put up on Sepa’s website. Although it enables individuals to search for sources of pollution in their area, it makes it difficult to draw comparisons across Scotland.
The report said: “Sepa has deliberately prevented the creation of pollution league tables to compare releases.” This contrasts with the pollution inventories made public by the Environment Agency in England and Wales and the European Union, which encourage comparisons.
Friends of the Earth Scotland said experience in the US had shown league tables to be an effective way of prompting companies to cut pollution.
Duncan McLaren claimed: “By deliberately failing to make pollution data easy to compare, Sepa is helping to hold back the delivery of environmental justice in Scotland.
“ Sepa once again appears to be placing the interests of industry above communities.”
Sepa defended its pollution inventory by saying that it was trying to present a lot of data as clearly as possible. “This website has a very specific job,” said Sepa’s environmental quality manager, Tom Leatherland.
“It deliberately doesn’t put site operators into a league table and it doesn’t assess any impact that sites have on the environment. This is because emission totals inevitably reflect the size of an operation. All Sepa licences include conditions designed to prevent any harmful environmental or health effects.”
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