Clapham Anaerobic Site Risked Pollution


A spill at Biogen’s anaerobic digestion site in Bedfordshire resulted from the company not following its own procedures, a court heard


Published on 21 June 2014


by Environment Agency

(WireNews+Co)

London, England

Environment Agency
Environment Agency

Mrs Claire Corfield, prosecuting for the Environment Agency at Luton Magistrates’ Court, said there had been a series of errors on 11 June 2012.

The company, which operates from Twinwoods Farm, Oakley Littlewood, Clapham, pleaded guilty to breaching its permit and was fined and ordered to pay costs totalling £8,700.

The company asked for a second offence concerning failing to report the incident without delay to be taken into consideration by the court.

Not checked

Mrs Corfield told the court that on the day of the incident, electrical work was undertaken to the new separator situated between 2 digestate storage tanks. Following this work, a company operative turned an isolator switch back on re-starting the pumped transfer of digestate between the tanks. The site manager was unaware of this and forgot to do his close down checks at the end of the day.

Later investigations showed the company had failed to follow a number of its procedures which meant the necessary risk assessments were not carried out before electrical work was done to the new separator.

In addition there was no written procedure for the transfer of digestate between storage tanks, there was no system of planned preventative maintenance and visual checks of underground pipes were sporadic and not recorded. Before the incident, the company had identified various pollution risks at the site, yet had failed to adequately address them.

Two spills

The result was 2 separate spills which were spotted on CCTV by the head of plant operations, who was monitoring the site from home and alerted the site manager.

The site manager went to the site and reported back that a storage tank was overfilled and about 350 cubic metres of digestate (a nutrient-rich substance produced by anaerobic digestion that can be used as a fertiliser) had overflowed onto the ground and there was a separate spill of 20 cubic metres of raw waste. It appeared that the spills had been contained on site by the bund. No alarms had been triggered.

Biogen’s permit authorises the acceptance and treatment of 47,500 tonnes of combined food waste and pig slurry per year. It also requires a written management system to identify and minimise risks of pollution.

Dam

Mrs Corfield said that Environment Agency officers were alerted to the site the following day by a complaint of bad smells from a member of the public and found a large amount of digestate covering the base of the compound. A surface water outfall pipe, from the site and neighbouring pig unit, was discharging a black effluent into the adjacent ditch which smelt of digestate.

Downstream a dam had been built and the ditch was being cleaned up. Fifteen hours after the spills were discovered, the company reported the incident to the Agency.

Previous conviction

A company representative told investigating officers that an underground pipe had fractured resulting in the spill of raw waste and that a transfer pump between 2 storage tanks had been left running unattended. He said they had notified the Agency as soon as they realised there might be a link between the spill and the levels of ammonia in the outfall pipe.

The company has a previous conviction for a pollution at the same site on 19 November 2010 which involved the spill of 300 cubic metres of digestate.

There was a similar incident at another anaerobic digester plant at Westwood in September 2010 when an alarm failed and 1 tonne of digestate had gone into a ditch.

Digestate has the potential to harm the environment if it gets into watercourses. Digestate from anaerobic digestion of food waste and slurry is likely to contain grossly polluting levels of biochemical oxygen demand and ammonia.

After the hearing, Environment Agency officer Rob Jamieson said:

“This case demonstrates the potential for adverse environmental impact resulting from an inadequate environmental management system and the failure to apply the controls within the management system fully.”

##Charges

Biogen pleaded guilty to: On or about 11 June 2012 you, being the operator of an Environmental Permit reference EPR/KP3496NT (as varied), for a regulated facility at Twinwoods Farm, Oakley Littlewood, Clapham, Bedfordshire MK41 6BL, failed to comply with Condition 1.1.1(a) of the said Permit in that you failed to manage and operate the activities: In accordance with a written management system that identifies and minimises risks of pollution.

(Contrary to Regulation 38(2) Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2010).

Biogen asked for the following offence to be taken into consideration:

On or about 11 June 2012 you, being the operator of an Environmental Permit reference EPR/KP3496NT (as varied), for a regulated facility at Twinwoods Farm, Oakley Littlewood, Clapham, Bedfordshire MK41 6BL, failed to comply with Condition 4.3.1(a) of the said Permit in that you failed to notify the Agency without delay following the detection of any malfunction, breakdown or failure of equipment or techniques, accident or emission of a substance not controlled by an emission limit which has caused, is causing or may cause significant pollution.

(Contrary to Regulation 38(2) Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2010).


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Posted 2014-06-21 14:45:00