The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) has fingered the famous food company, Baxters, the beer giant, Tennent Caledonian, and the biscuit-maker, McVities, for breaching pollution limits. Some leading whisky distilleries, including Glenlivet, Macallan and Ardmore, have also come under fire for failing to control their contaminating effluents.
Other major operators officially condemned as poor are the Peel Group’s Clydeport at Hunterston in North Ayrshire, which twice showered a local community with dust; the Wood Group’s oil terminal at Nigg on the Cromarty Firth, which unleashed an “offensive odour”; and Borders General Hospital in Melrose, which twice breached air pollution limits.
A big plant making wood products at Cowie in Stirling, run by the $1 billion Canadian corporation, Norbord, was slated as “very poor” by Sepa because of pollution breaches. The same plant was assessed as poor in 2012 and 2010.
Sepa’s latest “compliance assessments” rate the environmental performance of 349 industrial sites across Scotland in 2013 as either poor or very poor. The biggest offenders were 83 water suppliers, 82 waste industry sites and 45 fish farms.
There were also 32 private sewers, 29 public sewerage works, 10 distilleries and breweries, nine crematoria, six food plants and five opencast coal mines assessed as poor (see table below). Details of most of the polluters have been posted online by Sepa, but it has kept water suppliers and sites handing radioactive substances secret “for reasons of national security”.
Environmentalists have described the revelations as “shocking” and slammed the poor performers for failing to take their environmental responsibilities seriously. But many companies have defended their records, pointing out that they have invested to make improvements.
“This is a sorry catalogue of incompetents, chancers and criminals, and Sepa needs to use the full force of the law to rapidly improve these poor figures,” said Emilia Hanna, pollution campaigner at Friends of the Earth Scotland.
“As usual the waste industry leads the table for being rubbish at looking after the environment - it is time they stopped getting away with it. And it’s a disgrace that publicly-owned Scottish Water is far from a shining example of good practice.
She added: "It is particularly disappointing that such a strongly iconic brand as Baxters is listed as a poor performer. Scotland’s food and drink industry trades on the image of a clean environment but Baxters are letting the side down in a big way.”
Baxters, a family firm based at Fochabers in Moray best known for its soup, has been categorised as poor by Sepa for the last three years. In 2013 Sepa said it failed to comply with pollution limits, though compliance was expected to improve in 2014.
Baxters said it had invested £300,000 to improve its effluent treatment, and was expecting to invest more in the future. “This has resulted in significant improvements and we have been complying with Sepa requirements for the past 12 months,” said a company spokeswoman.
Amongst the 82 waste sites rated as poor are landfills, transfer stations, processing plants and scrap metal dealers. Most are run by private companies, though some belong to local authorities.
The Scottish Environmental Services Association (Sesa), which represents the waste industry, argued that more credit should be given to those that perform well. “The fact that the vast majority of Sesa member sites are in the upper compliance bands is a direct reflection of the effort and resources that are continually expended to secure compliance,” said Sesa’s policy advisor, Stephen Freeland.
The 29 public sewerage works rated as poor include plants in Glasgow, Lanarkshire, Ayrshire, Argyll, Stirling, Scottish Borders, Aberdeen and elsewhere. Sewers have overflowed, leaked and breached environmental limits.
Scottish Water, however, pointed out that 93 per cent of its wastewater treatment works were classed as satisfactory, a significant improvement on 2012. “We are committed to delivering further improvements and in the forthcoming 2015-21 investment period will be investing a minimum of £480 million to protect and enhance our environment,” said a company spokesman.
The 45 fish farms, mostly in the highlands and islands, failed Sepa’s assessment for contaminating the seabed, overstocking salmon cages and breaking the rules on the use of chemicals. According to the Salmon and Trout Association in Scotland, which represents anglers, this suggested that Sepa was failing to take robust action against offenders.
But Scott Landsburgh, chief executive of the Scottish Salmon Producers' Organisation, pointed out that over 80 per cent of fish farms were rated good or excellent. “Our healthy and nutritious fish are grown responsibly, respecting the environment whilst maintaining jobs and supporting rural economies,” he said.
Six of the seven whisky distilleries classed as poor for breaching pollution limits are on Speyside. The Scotch Whisky Association said it was “disappointed” when high standards weren’t achieved.
“The whisky industry is committed to protecting the environment,” said the association’s Rosemary Gallagher. “The industry works closely with Sepa and other relevant organisations to ensure it goes above and beyond compliance requirements.”
One of the distilleries, Ardmore near Huntly, has been rated as poor two years running. It works with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) to help eagles and is one of the sponsors of the society’s prestigious ‘Nature of Scotland’ awards in Edinburgh this week.
The Green MSP, Alison Johnstone, urged the RSPB to “consider carefully” its links with Ardmore. “As an influential membership organisation it will want to avoid any damage to its good reputation,” she said.
“It's worrying to still see bad results from Scotland's largest industrial sites. I want to see Sepa and the Scottish government getting tough with big operators who repeatedly fail.”
Ardmore, which is owned by the Japanese and US drinks giant, Beam Suntory, insisted that it had improved its performance since 2013. A record £2 million investment in a new effluent treatment plant “will ensure an environmentally compliant future for the site,” said Ardmore’s manager, Alistair Longwell.
Sepa criticised Tennent Caledonian’s Wellpark brewery in the east end of Glasgow for “major breaches” of maintenance conditions and a “gross breach” in emissions in 2013. The company insisted this was a “temporary position” due to a “one-off minor leak of coolant”, which it said it immediately reported and rectified.
The McVities biscuit factory at Tollcross in Glasgow was graded as poor because it breached discharge limits. According to Sepa, the owner, United Biscuits, had completed work that should improve compliance, but the company itself declined to comment.
Clydeport accepted that there had been two “isolated incidents’ at Hunterston, but said that it had invested tens of thousands of pounds to minimise dust clouds. The Wood Group’s UK managing director, Dave Stewart, also blamed a “one-off isolated incident” for the bad smell at the Nigg oil terminal and promised “a solution to ensure this doesn’t recur.”
Similarly, NHS Borders accepted that power cuts had triggered pollution from the incinerator at Borders General Hospital but said a new system should avoid future incidents. Steve Roebuck, a director at Norbord, said that an issue with the water treatment plant in Cowie had been resolved by investing £250,000 in a new plant.
Sepa pointed out that it had assessed a total of 5,178 sites in 2013, 4,478 of which were excellent, good or broadly complaint. “The level of compliance that we have seen is encouraging and shows that our approach to enforcement and promoting the benefits of compliance is having a tangible impact,” said Sepa’s executive director, Calum MacDonald.
“Appropriate enforcement action will be taken against operators who have consistently failed to meet the required standards.”
Scotland's polluters: sites rated as poor by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency
Water suppliers / 83
Waste plants / 82
Fish farms / 45
Private sewers / 32
Public sewerage works / 29
Distilleries and breweries / 10
Crematoria / 9
Food factories / 6
Opencast coal mines / 5
Others / 48
Total / 349
Peel Group's Clydeport at Hunterston, North Ayrshire
Wood Group's oil terminal at Nigg on the Cromarty Firth
Borders General Hospital, Melrose
Norboard wood plant, Cowie, Stirling
Baxters, Fochabers, Moray
The Creamery, Stranraer
Arla Foods Creamery, Lockerbie
Scotbeef, Bridge of Allan
Omega Proteins, Dumfries and Galloway
Distilleries and breweries
Blair Atholl, Pitlochry
Glenlivet Distillery, Ballindalloch
Tamdhu, Knockando, Aberlour
Pencaitland Maltings, East Lothian
Tennent Caledonian, Glasgow
Pet Crematorium, Larkhall
Opencast coal mines
Mainshill, Douglas, Lanarkshire
Garleffan Extension discharge, Ayrshire
Garleffan Extension barrel wash, Ayrshire
Muir Dean, Fife
A story on pollution compliance assessments by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency in 2012 is here.