A clay company has paid a heavy price for a toxic discharge which saw a hazardous chemical enter a river near St Austell.
In a case brought by the Environment Agency, Imerys Minerals have been ordered to pay £100,000 in fines and costs for allowing the hazardous chemical to enter Par River via one of its tributaries.
The offence occurred in July 2013 after staff at Rocks Dryers, a site operated by Imerys near Bugle, flushed a hazardous substance called Jayfloc 85 out of a redundant storage tank and into drains where it entered a series of settlement lagoons before discharging into Rocks Stream, which feeds in to the river.
Imerys failed to carry out a risk assessment despite Jayfloc85 being classified by its manufacturer as ‘hazardous’ and ‘harmful to aquatic life’. Guidance on its use clearly states this chemical should not be allowed to enter drains, surface waters or ground waters.
Liquids entering the settlement lagoons undergo a basic treatment. China clay solids held in suspension settle out of the liquid and accumulate in the bottom of the lagoons. Sodium Carbonate is then used to adjust the pH before the effluent is discharged. The system is not designed to treat toxic chemical pollutants such as Jayfloc85.
On the day of the offence, the chemical, which is used in the processing of china clay, was flushed out of the storage tank and into the site’s effluent system and settlement lagoons via drains.
Imerys did not believe the chemical would harm the environment as it claimed the volume released was relatively small (estimated at 474 litres) and once in the settlement lagoons, it would have been heavily diluted.
But the company failed to check the manufacturer’s data sheet about the harm Jayfloc85 can cause if it escapes into streams, lakes and rivers. The chemical should have been removed from the site and either used elsewhere or taken to a permitted site for safe disposal.
The Par River, downstream of the discharge point, flows into Par Beach, a designated bathing water popular with holidaymakers.
“This case demonstrates how important it is for site operators to have effective training and management systems in place to prevent the discharge of toxic chemicals into the environment.”
“Clearly, this wasn’t the case at Rocks Dryers where Imerys failed to properly assess the risks of emptying a hazardous substance into the site’s drainage system. Had it done so, the company would have soon realised the disposal of hazardous chemical in this way is illegal,” said Chris Barnes for the Environment Agency.
At an earlier hearing Imerys Minerals Limited pleaded guilty to discharging poisonous, noxious or polluting matter into inland freshwaters including the Rocks Stream, Rosevean Stream and Par River in contravention of Regulation 12(1)(b) of the Environmental Permitting Regulations 2010.
Appearing before Truro Crown Court, the company was fined £75,000 and ordered to pay £25,000 costs.
An Imerys statement said: “Imerys Minerals Ltd can confirm that it pleaded guilty at Truro Crown Court to inadvertently discharging a chemical into the Rocks Stream from its Rocks Dryers’ site in July 2013.
“The incident took place during the decommissioning of a redundant storage tank which contained remnants of a flocculent previously used to aid the settling out of clay particles during processing.
“Approximately 474 litres of the flocculent was flushed into the site’s effluent system, which is protected by a series of settling tanks, but unfortunately around 4 litres of the chemical entered the stream.
“Whilst it was accepted by the court that the discharge did not lead to environmental harm being caused to the Rocks Stream, Par River or surrounding area or to any fish or wildlife, we take the fact that this event happened very seriously. On becoming aware of the discharge we cooperated fully with the Environment Agency in investigating the issue and have made changes to our internal procedures as a result.
“Imerys takes its environmental responsibilities very seriously and has a good track record of compliance and cooperation with the regulators in what is a challenging and environmentally sensitive industrial sector. The changes to its procedures were made in order to reinforce this commitment to operating as an environmentally aware organisation.”
Source: CornwallLive 27th January 2017