Whites Recycling has been fined £20,000 after a stream was polluted following a land spreading operation in wet weather at a farm in the north-east.
Newton Aycliffe Magistrates’ Court heard how on 22 March 2017 a member of the public reported that a stream close to Greystones Farm near Eppleby, west of Darlington, was running black.
The following morning officers from the Environment Agency attended the farm and met with the farm manager who confirmed that eight loads of digestate had been spread on the field the previous day.
Officers investigated a tributary of the River Tees and saw that drainage outfalls from the waterlogged field were discharging a black liquid into the watercourse.
Whites Recycling, which had carried out the spreading operation, immediately arranged for a tanker to remove the pools of digestate and rainwater that had accumulated on the field.
Rainfall data showed about half of the average monthly rainfall for the area fell on 22 and 23 March 2017 and the Met Office had issued a severe weather warning for snow on 22 March 2017 for the area. One of the conditions of land spreading is that weather conditions are assessed before spreading takes place, and ‘without harm to the environment’.
However, checks on the company’s environment management system revealed there was no way for staff to check the weather forecast before spreading.
Also, the field record sheet had been incorrectly filled out, stating that the nearest watercourse was 150m away when the stream is only separated from the field by a main road.
Whites Recycling, based at Mill Lane, South Witham, Lincolnshire, pleaded guilty to breaching its environmental permit for mobile plant land spreading at Greystones Farm and polluting a tributary of the River Tees. It was also ordered to pay costs and a victim surcharge totalling £4,430.
The company said the incident had resulted from a systems failure and was not committed deliberately or recklessly, and that immediate action was taken to prevent further harm by removing liquid from the field. Its environment management system has since been reviewed and updated and it has also conducted training for its staff in the new procedures.
Whites Recycling apologised to the Environment Agency and the court for the breach and the resulting pollution.