Firm is fined for polluting brook

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A company has been ordered to pay more than £20,000 for polluting a brook at Hockliffe.

Overflows from an anaerobic digestion plant in December 2013 and again the following April meant effluent got into a ditch which ran into Ouzel Brook.

Luton Magistrates heard that poor site management led to 3km of watercourses being polluted.

Trinity Hall Biogas Ltd leased the farm land to run the AD plant and owned the operation pleaded guilty to the charges.

On June 15 Luton Magistrates’ Court fined the company £10,000 and ordered it to pay £10,423.79 Environment Agency costs after it pleaded guilty to the offences.

Warren Scott, aged 44, of Owles Lane, Buntingford, Hertfordshire, the controlling partner of Scott and Scott, the business operating the plant, accepted a caution at a previous hearing.

The court heard that as a result of overflows from the plant water quality was chronically affected in the stream from the farm near Hockliffe to the Ouzel Brook approximately 3km downstream..

Ms Wendy Foster, prosecuting for the Agency, said that Scott had reported an overflow of effluent from a storage container at Trinity Hall Farm between Hockliffe and Dunstable.

The storage container held liquid which had leached from a maize heap stored as bio-fuel for an anaerobic digestion (AD) plant. The tank had not been checked and had overflowed.

Ms Foster said bags of wrapped bio-fuel, owned by the company, were stored on a field in rows, the ends of which were within 10m of the ditch where the effluent had been found. “This is a breach of silage regulations”.

She said samples of bacterial growth taken from the watercourse indicated an ongoing chronic pollution.

Four months later Agency officers went back to the farm to check the water quality of the brook and nearby watercourses and found levels of ammonia at 10milligram a litre, 10 times higher than normally found in similar watercourses.

“Any concentration in excess of 5 milligram per litre is likely to have a toxic effect on aquatic life,” said Ms Foster.

The effluent in the tank was only inches from the top and a mud bank had been cleared creating a direct pathway for effluent to reach the watercourse. Effluent was leaking from a pump in several places and running into a ditch.

The company told Agency investigators that Scott and Scott were the day to day operators of the AD Plant and were only responsible for emptying the tank if there was an agreement for them to do so.

There were no such agreements at the time of the offences, this was an oversight by the company.

Ms Foster said the site had been ‘poorly managed’ rather than the pollution being an isolated incident.

“The offences arose out of negligence of the defendant company. The repeated incidents of pollution and failures to comply with regulations are indicative of inadequate systems and monitoring rather than an isolated incident.”

The company said it had reported the incident and had since put in place infrastructure to prevent any further offences.

The District Judge hearing the case said: “Self-reporting the incident was a substantial mitigating factor –the pollutions impacted upon 3km of the watercourse. It is incredulous that there was no system in place to empty the tank.”