BioConstruct New Energy Limited, based at Preston Farm Industrial Estate, Stockton-on-Tees, appeared at South Tyneside Magistrates’ Court on 28 February and pleaded guilty to one charge of breaching its environmental permit by allowing odour to be released, and further charges of failing to comply with two enforcement notices.
The court heard its anaerobic digestion (AD) plant at Wardley Colliery near West Boldon, South Tyneside – which makes energy from waste food – breached its odour management plan, leading to unregulated and odorous gases being released into the air and impacting local residents.
It was fined £16,000 (€17.9k) and ordered to pay costs of almost £10,000 (€11.2k).
Andrew Turner, area environment manager at the Environment Agency in the North East, said:
"We understand how awful it is for residents to suffer when waste sites fail in their obligation to ensure there is no odour coming from their sites.
"Environmental permits are in place to protect the public and environment and this fine should serve as a warning that the Environment Agency will not hesitate to bring to court and prosecute companies who breach their permits and flout the law."
Complaints about odour at the site
Companies like BioConstruct must have an odour management plan in place, with gas emissions outside the site required to be odour-free and regularly monitored.
On 26 June 2020 the Environment Agency received over 25 complaints about smells coming from the plant, and officers attended and verified the reports.
Site management explained there were issues with the company’s emergency gas flare, which operates as a failsafe to burn off excess gas, and because of this the pressure release valve had operated. This releases raw smelly gas into the atmosphere in an emergency to prevent an explosion.
During its inspection the Environment Agency found several breaches of the company’s odour management plan, including a failure to properly maintain the gas flare, which increases the risk of having to vent raw gas out through the pressure release valve. The gas flare was subsequently repaired.
However, during Environment Agency site inspections in 2021, odour at the plant continued to be an issue. As a result the Agency issued two enforcement notices in July and September to bring the site back into compliance. They required improvements in the odour management plan, and for the company to install odour abatement units and monitor their performance. Neither were complied with by the deadlines set, with the company claiming supply chain issues had caused delays.
At the hearing the court accepted that the company had shown remorse and accepted responsibility for the offending. The court also accepted the offending had not been commercially motivated and steps had been taken to remedy the problem.
The court heard that the company had previously been fined in 2019 for causing off-site odour pollution at another of its plants in Middlesbrough.