FENLAND: HL Foods - part of Premier Foods- fined £140,000 for pollution offences at Crown Court

PUBLISHED: 15:11 19 January 2009 | UPDATED: 08:50 02 June 2010

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VEGETABLE processor HL Foods Ltd – part of Premier Foods, was today fined a total of £140,000 for pollution offences. The Long Sutton based company allowed rotten cabbage-like smells and egg smells to affect people living nearby several times in three mon

VEGETABLE processor HL Foods Ltd - part of Premier Foods, was today fined a total of £140,000 for pollution offences.

The Long Sutton based company allowed rotten cabbage-like smells and egg smells to affect people living nearby several times in three months because of equipment failures and a delay in cutting back on production. The company was also ordered to pay £4,421 costs.

Lincoln Crown Court heard that there were five complaints in a week to the Environment Agency about the smells in October 2007. Officers visited one complainant and detected the cabbage like smell outside and inside the house.

When they visited the HL Foods site they found the smell coming from open topped aeration tanks at the firm's waste water treatment plant which were being overloaded due to a failure of an anaerobic digester. After three more complaints in the following week the officers made a further visit and met the company's consultant who said that the smells would continue because there was a problem getting the anaerobic digester working again.

Later that day Environment Agency officer Mr Dominic Freestone returned to the site to tell the general manager Mr Richard Sloan that he intended to serve an enforcement notice on the company because it was breaching the odour condition of its permit to operate. Mr Sloan agreed to reduce production at the factory to lessen the volume of waste water which would reduce the smells.

Mr Sloan told officers that waste water from the vegetable preparation process was diverted to aerators past the anaerobic digester when it wasn't working and there had been problems getting the biomass needed to get it working again properly.

He said it would have been "challenging" for the aerators if they had been in good order but only six of the 10 were working in September. By October nine were operating but oxygen levels were low.

The company had tried some measures to take pressure off the waste water plant but admitted they had not reduced production in October because they were 'trying to balance the system'. They had later closed the largest product line and made further cut-backs and the factory was closed the following week for its annual shut down.

Mr Mark Watson, prosecuting, told the court that in January last year there were more complaints about smells so Agency officer Mr Freestone visited the site again and detected an egg smell, which was particularly strong around the fan at the back of the waste water treatment plant.

The fan is used to pump biogas to the boiler and flare which burns it as a fuel. 'The odour was so intense that it was not possible to stay in close proximity to the fan for more than a few seconds,' said Mr Watson. 'Despite having been so close to the smell, Mr Freestone could still smell it in a nearby home.' The general manager agreed to carry out further investigation.

Mr Sloan said the January incident had been caused by the flare that burns off excess methane not working. There was a problem with the pilot light which needed fixing and he now inspects it at least once a week but there have been no further problems.

Mr Sloan said HL Foods had tried to resolve the problems but felt let down by the contractors.

Mr Watson described the effect of the smells on two local households which kept regular diaries of the smells. One householder had to cancel some visits from friends because of strong smells, had lost his appetite many times and sometimes had trouble sleeping. He described it as 'a rotten vegetation smell and almost like a dead rat type smell.'

Another complained of being unable to open windows to get rid of smells because there was no fresh air to let in. His family had no social life as friends and family refused to visit. On one occasion a family member was sick because of the smell.

Mr Watson pointed out to the judge that while the initial failure in October 2007 was not intentional, the re-routing to the next stage of the process was intentional and the resulting failure of the system to cope and smells generated could be considered 'intentional or reckless.'

He said the reluctance to reduce production during the October incident was a decision which had financial implications.

There is a history of problems with smells from the site and each incident lasted several days. The January incident appeared to have been caused by problems managing contractors, Mr Watson told the court.

After the hearing Environment Agency officer Mr Dominic Freestone said: 'It is disappointing that we have had to resort to prosecution to get this company to 'up their game' and take full responsibility for the impacts of their operation on the local community. Operators need to understand that where persuasion and influence fail, we will take formal action'.

Judge Makin said he thought the company was sensible in making a decision to review its management of the effluent operations to take more direct control and ensure nothing similar happened again.

HL Foods Ltd pleaded guilty in December 2008 to:

On or before 16 October 2007 at the Bridge Road Food Factory, Bridge Road, Long Sutton, Spalding, Lincolnshire as the operator of a Pollution Prevention and Control Permit issued by the regulator on 27 April 2006 pursuant to the Pollution Prevention and Control (England and Wales) Regulations 2000, you failed to comply with Conditon 2.2.6.1 of the said permit in that you failed to use BAT so as to prevent or, where that is not practicable, to reduce odorous emissions from the permitted installation.

Contrary to Regulation 32(1)(b) Pollution Prevention and Control (England and Wales) Regulations 2000.

Fined £20,000.

On or before 29 January 2008 at the Bridge Road Food Factory, Bridge Road, Long Sutton, Spalding, Lincolnshire as the operator of a Pollution Prevention and Control Permit issued by the regulator on 27 April 2006 pursuant to the Pollution Prevention and Control (England and Wales) Regulations 2000, you failed to comply with Conditon 2.2.6.1 of the said permit in that you failed to use BAT so as to prevent or, where that is not practicable, to reduce odorous emissions from the permitted installation.

Contrary to Regulation 32(1)(b) Pollution Prevention and Control (England and Wales) Regulations 2000.

Fined £120,000.


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