Saga of Wrexham chemical waste stockpile continues

The Wrexham waste treatment firm which accepted thousands of drums of chemical waste from Albright & Wilson (A&W) free of charge - only to find that its recycling process would not work - has now gone into liquidation. A&W is still refusing to say whether it will fund the site's clean-up - preferring to see if Bluestone's former directors succeed in a bid to reprocess the waste under a new name.

Bluestone Chemicals accepted more than 3,000 tonnes of waste onto its site between 1994 and 1997, around two thirds of which came from A W (ENDS Report 283, pp 31-33 ). But Bluestone's process, recovering copper chrome catalysts and fatty alcohols, did not work reliably.

A&W saved a six-figure sum by sending its waste to Bluestone, avoiding high landfill fees for the difficult wastes. It agreed to pay for the recovered fatty alcohols, but very little was recovered. The plant closed in April 1997 after a prosecution for odour nuisance. Some of the 7,000 drums left stockpiled on the site are heavily corroded, and the limited site bunding has failed to contain leaks during heavy rain.

Bluestone has now passed into voluntary liquidation and was officially wound up in November. In April 1997, it had debts of more than £400,000. But this has not prevented its directors, Alan Kenny and Steve Brown, from setting up a new company, Catalyst International (KB) Ltd, which has applied to transfer Bluestone's waste management licence into its name.

The original licence application was made in 1993, before the current licensing regime and its requirement that licence holders should be "fit and proper persons" took effect. The Agency must now apply that test before agreeing to transfer the licence.

"This gives us an opportunity to get financial provisions in place," said Agency officer Owen Thomas. "We're currently discussing with them the extent of financial provision required."

The Agency says it is being "flexible while protecting the public purse." One option is to require an up-front payment into a bond or similar financial instrument alongside future payments to build an adequate fund.

There is a danger, however, that the firm might wish to bring still more waste onto the site in order to fund investment and payments into an Agency bond. Around a third of the material accepted by Bluestone was from overseas sources which paid the company for a treatment service which for many consignments failed to take place. The company is also arguing that the waste could be viewed as an asset if reprocessing became possible.

It appears that Catalyst International intends to reprocess the waste at another site. The operators of any such process would probably need an authorisation under the integrated pollution control regime. Catalyst International also needs a waste licence for the Wrexham site in order to store the existing stockpile legally.

Meanwhile, another waste recovery firm, Evergreen Environmental Services, is showing interest in Bluestone's stockpile. It has applied to the Welsh Office for a grant to develop a reprocessing technology based on one in use in the USA.

A&W now acknowledges that a significant proportion of the stockpile came from its works - contrary to its claims earlier this year. A spokeswoman said that A&W is now offering "technical cooperation" to Bluestone and some other companies to develop a new reprocessing technology. "We and the Environment Agency are very keen that this material should be recycled rather than dumped," the spokeswoman said. "But if [landfill] is the only option then that is what will happen."

A&W is still refusing to pledge funds to cleaning up the site should its "technical cooperation" fail to bear fruit. "We cannot comment one way or another" on who would pay, the spokeswoman said.

In contrast, the Agency says that A&W has promised to remove its waste should things go wrong - but it has no written commitment to that effect. One stick available to the Agency is a prosecution under "duty of care" legislation for failing to ensure that waste goes to a reliable contractor. There are also contractual issues to resolve, including a possibility that technically A&W may own the waste.

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