An east Donegal meat production plant has been ordered to pay almost €12,000 in fines and costs after it was prosecuted for allowing a mix of “bloodied water” to escape from its plant onto a public lane way and field.
Donegal Meat Processors Ltd., contested four charges brought by the Environmental Protection Agency in relation to a unannounced inspection at the Carrigans plant on March 1, 2011.
EPA Inspector, Michelle McKim, said the company held a valid licence for the operation of slaughtering and processing cattle since 1997 and she and a colleague were “welcomed” on site on the day of the inspection, as they have been previously.
She observed a washing area, a water treatment area and a “separator” machine used for separating liquids and solid animal waste or “sludge”.
This liquid was then returned to the water treatment area into two ‘sump tanks’ adjoined by an inter-connecting pipe, where is was processed to a level deemed environmentally safe.
While on site she observed “untreated effluent” or “bloodied” waste spilled around the area of the tanks.
It also escaped through a gate way onto a lane and into a nearby field. The River Foyle was approximately 165 metres from the spill, she added.
She observed one man walking his dog on the lane way and there was also an employee of the company power hosing an area of “permeable” ground near the spillage.
She said she had concerns about the spill as the waste contained high levels of ammonia, phosphorus, Nitrogen and Biological Oxygen Demand (BOD) toxins that can cause harm if they enter a water course.
The employee told her there had been a blockages in the pipe between the two tanks before.
Under law the tank is supposed to have a “High liquid Level” warning device fitted but did not in this case, she added. There was also spillage noted near the separator machine on to permeable ground or soil.
She said the area was supposed to be impermeable, or sealed ground, for the waste to run back into the tanks and the spillage was “environmentally significant”.
She drew up a list of improvement works that had to be carried out including the construction of a bonded wall as well as measures to remove the spillage of up to 70 litres with “spill fixer” pillows and laying sand adding “improvements had been made”.
Environmental site Service Manager for the meat plant, Cathal McGowan said they had recorded the spillage correctly and began the improvements works straight away.
He said their tanks were cleaned by external contractors on a regulator basis and they carry out daily environmental checks on the plant.
He said the spill on March 1 was the result of a “freak accident” where a plastic hand device worn in conjunction with chain mail gloves, known as “spiders”, tangled together and blocked the pipe.
He said this wasn’t reported to the EPA initially as they had only discovered the cause after the inspectors left the site.
Prosecutor, Dean Kelly BL, said the employee had admitted there had been blockages before but Mr McGowan said they did not result in over flows.
Group operations director, Paul O’Brion, for parent company Foyle Foods Group said they took the issue very seriously at the plant, not only from a legislative point but also from a consumer point of view.
He added the group had invested heavily in the 50 year-old meat plant to improve safety.
Mr Kelly argued that much of the evidence heard was “mitigation” for the defendants.
Defence barrister, Peter Nolan BL, said the prosecutions case stated the spill was of “environmental significance” but there was no legal definition for this term.
He also said there was no sample taken of the material that could be subjected to testing and the EPA admitted the spill did not enter the near by River Foyle.
After considering the evidence Judge Kelly dismissed the charge relating to the contamination of a water way but said the other charges had a case to meet as they were of “environmental significance”.
He found the defendants guilty of the spill at the separator and at the tank and also guilty of not having a high liquid level indicator.
He said the company did have a “good compliance record” and “very good procedures” in place but they would need to be looked at as there may be times when there is a larger build up of sludge more than others.
He gave Mr McGowan credit as credible witness and that he accepted the reason the blockage would not have been detected until later on the day it occurred.
The court heard they had a previous conviction from 2005 and Judge Kelly said he could not disregard the fact but accepted it was “difficult to get it 100%”.
He fined them €1,000 each on the three charges with cost of €2,840 awarded to the EPA and €6,000 in legal costs.