ONE of Scotland’s great rivers is being polluted with sewage because illegal discharges from a government-backed frozen food company are swamping a waste water treatment plant.
The Tay has been contaminated in the past fortnight because Dundee’s Hatton sewage plant has been overwhelmed by green effluent from the processing of the local pea harvest by Alpine Foods.
The company, the largest processor of frozen vegetables in the UK, was served a legal notice on Friday to curb its discharges, alleged to be twice the legal limit. In recent years its business has been boosted by over £1.5 million in grants from the Scottish Executive.
According to Scottish Water, the treatment of sewage at the Hatton works was “almost completely wiped out” by excess discharges from Alpine Foods on July 26. Since then the company is alleged to have regularly breached its discharge consent and ignored repeated warnings to deal with the problem.
The firm’s behaviour was branded “unacceptable” by Atholl Duncan, Scottish Water’s director of corporate affairs. “We cannot allow customers to ignore legal limits,” he said.
“We understand that Alpine Foods is important to the local economy at the height of the pea harvest. The answer is to keep production going and keep the effluent within the agreed limits so there is no further danger to the local environment.”
A Scottish Water trade effluent specialist was at the Alpine plant yesterday to help address the problem. “We are determined to keep working with Alpine Foods to find a satisfactory solution,” Duncan added.
When sewage treatment fails, discharges from the Hatton works to the Tay breach pollution limits laid down by the government’s Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa). Unless the water treatment plant, run by Catchment for Scottish Water, cleans up discharges it could face legal action from Sepa.
The Hatton plant has been “struggling” to keep within its discharge limits, a Sepa spokeswoman said yesterday. “Sepa has been in discussion with Catchment regarding this and has taken samples with a view to getting the works back to full compliance.”
In Dingwall on Friday Scottish Water was fined £4000 for allowing partially treated sewage to enter the River Peffery. The fine is the latest of many imposed on Scottish Water for sewage pollution.
Alpine Foods began freezing peas from local farms on July 7 and is expected to stop in about 10 days, once the pea harvest is over. The firm also freezes cauliflower, broccoli and carrots and was awarded over £1.5m in agricultural processing and marketing grants between 2001 and 2004. The Executive cash paid for a second processing line, safeguarding 55 jobs and supporting farmers.
Environmentalists expressed concern that taxpayers’ money may have helped cause the pollution. “Were there a little more joined-up thinking by government, such money would go hand-in-hand with promises by recipient businesses to invest in any necessary pollution control,” said Friends of the Earth Scotland chief executive Duncan McLaren.
Alpine Foods declined to comment.