The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) has named and shamed waste dumps, fish farms, sewage works, scrap yards and many others for breaking pollution rules with leaks, spills, smells and a host of other mishaps. Scores of companies have breached emission limits for two or three years running.
Amongst those outed for their “poor” performances are the famous Scottish soup and jam company, Baxters, the huge Ineos petrochemical refinery at Grangemouth and the French-owned waste giant, Sita UK. Others include three well-known whisky distilleries - Glenfarclas, Glengoyne and Whyte & Mackay – three crematoria, an Edinburgh pharmaceutical factory and an organic brewery on the Black Isle (see tables below).
“This continuing catalogue of environmental recklessness shows that Sepa and the SNP government are asleep at the wheel,” said the Green MSP, Patrick Harvie. “Companies and organisations are getting away with entirely preventable failures.”
Scotland’s air, water and land were being ruined by businesses cutting corners, he told the Sunday Herald. He warned the government not to cave in to companies with poor pollution records lobbying for weaker regulation.
Ministers and industry should realise that that a healthy economy depends on a healthy environment, Harvie argued. “The trouble is the Scottish government doesn't give two hoots about protecting the environment.”
Sepa put its latest compliance assessment reports for 2011 online last week, rating 46 sites as ”very poor”, 170 as “poor” and 146 as “at risk” – 362 in all. Waste facilities make up the largest group, including 73 landfill sites, transfer and recycling plants plus 35 metal and vehicle recycling yards.
They are criticised for failing to manage their businesses properly, resulting in pollution incidents, breaches of their licences and “offensive” odours. Effluent discharge limits are frequently exceeded, procedures ignored and records not kept.
The Chartered Institution of Wastes Management in Scotland, which represents professionals in the waste industry, praised Sepa’s “robust” reporting. “Where significant risk or actual harm has been identified, we would expect and support tough action by the regulator,” said the institution’s chair, Duncan Simpson.
“It is important to stress, however, that the compliance assessment looks at a wide range of management and operational areas, for example site security, audit procedures, and paperwork. A low score does not mean that environmental harm has occurred.”
Aquaculture emerges as a major polluting industry, with 56 salmon farms around the west coast and islands rated as poor or at risk. Seabed contamination surveys for many are assessed by Sepa as “unsatisfactory”, while some have breached their licences or failed to carry out monitoring or to file reports.
The Scottish Salmon Producers’ Organisation, which represents fish farmers, pointed out that 87% of the 415 farms assessed last year were rated excellent or good. “The seabed area used for the whole of the salmon farming sector is equal to one good-sized livestock farm,” said the organisation’s chief executive, Scott Landsburgh. “Any impacts are minute, local and temporary.”
As many as 50 public sewage works across the country have been also been censured by Sepa for their poor or risky performances. Discharge limits for copper, ammonia and bacteria have been breached, sewers have overflowed, and bad practices uncovered.
But Scottish Water, which operates over 1,800 waste water treatment works in Scotland, argued that its environmental performance was improving. “We are investing more than £1 billion in waste water treatment and management, which will help enhance the performance of our waste water treatment works further and protect the environment,” said a spokesman.
Some 58 dry cleaners are failing to submit annual returns on the potentially dangerous chemical solvents that they use to launder clothes. This has been branded “disappointing and quite unacceptable” by Murray Simpson, chief executive of the Textile Services Association which represents the industry.
The Baxters Food Group, based at Fochabers in Moray, was classed as “poor” by Sepa in 2011 because it failed to meet discharge limits for “suspended solids”. The company accepted that it had suffered “technical issues with our waste management process” but said that these had been resolved by “significant investment”.
The Glengoyne whisky distillery at Killearn, north of Glasgow, was assessed as poor after local water courses were polluted while a new reed bed treatment system was being commissioned. According to the company’s manager, Robbie Hughes, the system was now working properly.
The Whyte & MacKay distillery in Invergordon was also rated as poor because of an unspecified “significant environmental event”. The company did not comment last week, though it was said by Sepa to be “undertaking remedial action”.
West Lothian Crematorium in Livingston was accused of “very poor compliance during 2011” due to repeated breaches in emissions, while Moray Crematorium in Broadley was criticised for the “poor condition” of its plant. Sepa rated a pet crematorium in Larkhall as poor for failing to report its emissions.
The Macfarlan Smith pharmaceutical factory in Edinburgh run by the Johnson Matthey company had a “high number” of spillages, according to Sepa. In June it was named as one of the sites suspected of being linked to the city’s outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease, which killed three people.
Another business condemned as poor because pollution caused “sewage fungus” is the Black Isle Brewery in Munlochy. It produces organic beer under the slogan ‘save the planet, drink organic’, but did not respond to requests for a comment.
According to WWF Scotland, there was a “significant group of companies” which flouted the rules. “They seem to think they can treat the environment as their own personal waste dump,” said the environmental group’s spokesman, Lang Banks.
“It is particularly disappointing that a number of well-resourced household names fall into this category.”
Sepa assessed 2,691 sites in 2011, of which 67% were rated as excellent, 18% as good and 2% as broadly compliant. “A minority of operators are still not taking their environmental responsibilities seriously,” said Sepa’s director of operations, Calum MacDonald.
“Although we are committed to helping these operators achieve acceptable levels of compliance, we will not tolerate consistent failure at meeting our standards and will not shy away from enforcement action if, or when, necessary.”
The Scottish government argued that its promised legislation to deliver “better regulation” would help Sepa be “more transparent, accountable, proportionate, consistent and targeted”. The agency would be able to focus on the most important risks, said a spokeswoman.
“It will also ensure more effective and efficient protection of the environment and reduce the regulatory burden on business,” she added. The government had also set up an environmental crime taskforce to review how to deal more effectively with those who damage the environment.
The companies that keep on polluting
The dirtiest dozen polluters are waste plants, landfill sites and cheese companies that have been reprimanded by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) for their poor performances for the last three years running.
Perhaps the worst is the energy-from-waste incinerator being commissioned by Scotgen at Dargavel in Dumfries. It has been given the lowest rating of “very poor” in 2011, 2010 and 2009 and has breached emission limits 200 times, including for highly toxic dioxins.
The plant’s operations have been curbed by Sepa until it can show that it can prevent pollution breaches. Scotgen has said that it is working closely with Sepa to resolve the problems.
The performance of the French-owned waste company, Sita UK, at two sites - Binn Farm at Glenfarg in Perthshire and Stoneyhill in Peterhead – has been rated as poor for the last three years. It has been accused of “significant breaches” of pollution permits and “offensive” smells.
Sita UK said it had made “intense effort” over the last year “to put things right”. A spokesman added: “Our understanding is that both of our sites have improved significantly.”
Other three-time repeat offenders include Shanks Galdenoch waste disposal site in Stranraer, Patersons of Greenoakhill landfill in Glasgow and landfill sites at West Carron in Falkirk and at Greengairs in Airdrie. They are accused of a string of environmental breaches, including more “offensive odours”, “unacceptable” monitoring and “poor site management”.
The Caledonian Cheese Company in Stranraer and the Cheese Company in Lockerbie have also both been rated poor for the last three years for “gross breaches” in effluents and “numerous complaints” about emissions.
The performance of the petrochemical refinery at Grangemouth run by the £17 billion British-based multinational, Ineos, has been condemned in both 2011 and 2010. “Significant breaches of the permit due to poor operational control during a plant upset has affected the site performance resulting in the poor compliance score,” said Sepa.
The communications manager for Ineos, David East, pointed out that four of the five permits issued for the company’s Grangemouth complex were assessed as good or excellent. The refinery was marked down because of one incident late in 2011.
“Ineos takes its responsibility for the environment very seriously,” he said. “The site has invested hundreds of millions of pounds in environmental improvements and will continue to do so to ensure it remains compliant with new and proposed legislation.”
The independent Glenfarclas distillery at Ballindalloch in Banffshire, which produces renowned single malt, has been rated as poor two years running for repeated pollution breaches. According to Sepa, this is because the current treatment plant “appears to be approaching the end of its operational life.”
Glenfarclas referred questions to the Scotch Whisky Association, which insisted that the industry aimed to go “above and beyond” compliance requirements. “Where there is room for further improvement, we will work to raise standards even higher,” said the association’s spokeswoman.
But repeat pollution offenders were attacked by environmentalists, who urged Sepa to get tough. “Three years on the naughty list just isn't acceptable,” said Lang Banks from WWF Scotland.
“These firms are clearly not taking the environment seriously and Sepa needs to turn them around or shut them down.”
Scotland’s polluting industries
industry / number of sites rated at risk, poor or very poor by the Scottish Environment Protection Agencywaste / 73
dry cleaners / 58
fish farms / 56
public sewage works / 50
metal recycling / 35
minerals / 17
energy / 11
other / 62
total / 362
Repeat offenders: poor pollution management for three years (2011, 2010, 2009)Scotgen energy from waste plant, Dargavel, Dumfries
SITA landfill, Binn Farm, Glenfarg, Perthshire
SITA Stoneyhill Environmental Park, Peterhead
Shanks Galdenoch waste disposal site, Leswalt, Stranraer
Patersons of Greenoakhill landfill, Glasgow
West Carron landfill, Falkirk
Greengairs landfill, Airdrie
TEG Environmental, Glenfarg, Perthshire
Avondale non-hazardous landfill, Polmont
Caledonian Cheese Company, Stranraer
The Cheese Company, Priestdykes, Lockerbie
Healthcare Environmental, Shotts
Repeat offenders: poor pollution management for two years (2011, 2010)INEOS refinery, Grangemouth
Glenfarclas Distillery, Ballindalloch
MAHLE Engine Systems, Riccarton, Kilmarnock
Caledonian Proteins, Omoa Works, Newarthill
International Fish Canners, Fraserburgh
Thistle Seafoods, Boddam
Barr Environ, Auchencarroch, Jamestown
Barr Environ, Garlaff landfill , Cumnock
Crows Nest landfill, Banchory
Auchenlosh landfill, Dalbeattie
Deerdykes composting and organics recycling factory, Cumbernauld
Oran Environmental Solutions, Dunfermline
Lochwinnoch sewage works
Stonehouse sewage works
Biggar sewage works
Lesmahagow sewage works
Nigg sewage works
Tain waste water plant
Inverness waste water plant
Shieldhall sludge treatment centre, Glasgow
Discovery Flexibles, Dundee
Ardcastle fish farm, Loch Fyne
The Moredun Foundation, Penicuik
First time offenders: poor pollution management in 2011
Food Group, Fochabers, Moray
Glengoyne distillery, Killearn
Whyte & MacKay distillery, Invergordon
Black Isle organic brewery, Munlochy
Pencaitland Maltings, East Lothian
Orkney Cheese Company
West Lothian Crematorium, Livingston
Moray Crematorium, Broadley
The Pet Crematoruim, Larkhall
MacFarlan Smith pharmaceutical factory, Edinburgh
Sports Car Breakers, Newbridge
Stirling sewage works