Firm fined £30,000 for illegal effluent spreading

A company that illegally spread liquid waste from Cambridgeshire vegetable processors on land was fined £30,000 in December. Its director received a community order.

Cambridgeshire waste firm MAT Waste Disposal Ltd was ordered to pay £30,000 on 23 December after illegally spreading vegetable processing waste on fields. The waste caused offensive odours and killed fish in nearby watercourses.

The company, based at Langhorns Lane, Outwell, near Wisbech in north Cambridgeshire, collects and disposes of liquid waste. Part of its operation had been moved in 2005 to new premises containing lagoons at Town Drove after the Environment Agency warned it over illegally spreading waste at one of its sites.

But the Agency discovered illegal activities were being carried out at the new site after passers-by reported offensive odours, polluted water, and dead fish in a naturally filling pond.

One of MAT Waste’s activities was collecting wastewater from local vegetable processors. The waste was stored in a tank, where solids were left to settle and the liquid allowed to run off onto nearby property. This was carried out without an exemption or authorisation at two sites. A site behind its Langhorns Lane offices also received run-off from sewage collected from local septic tanks.

On one occasion the Agency saw the company’s sole director, Trevor William Sieley, discharging purple liquid collected from a beetroot processor onto a field behind its main site at Town Drove. The field smelt of sewage and was covered in liquids of various hues, along with fruit, vegetable and plastic packaging waste.

Sieley told Agency officers that the water pollution was not intentional and he had put down straw bales and dug a trench to try to stop it. He said he thought he could continue his business while waiting for an exemption from the Agency for Town Drove. The exemption was subsequently refused because the waste was not considered agriculturally beneficial.

Sieley and the company pleaded guilty to a total of four offences at Wisbech magistrates court in September. The case was referred to Cambridge crown court for sentencing.

MAT Waste Disposal admitted causing poisonous, noxious or polluting matter to enter controlled waters, contrary to sections 85(1) and (6) of the Water Resources Act 1991, between 23 January and 23 February 2007. It pleaded guilty to keeping controlled waste without a waste management licence, contrary to sections 33(1)(b) and 33(6) of the Environmental Protection Act 1990, between 23 January and 2 May 2007. The company was fined a total of £20,000 for the two offences plus £10,000 in costs.

Sieley confessed to causing the offences by his consent, connivance or neglect, contrary to sections 85(1), (6) and 217(1) of the Water Resources Act 1991 and sections 33(1)(b), 33(6) and 157(1) of the 1990 Act. He was given a community order of 240 hours’ unpaid work and 30 days’ ‘specified activity requirement’, which generally refers to educational activities.

Judge Nigel Howarth lambasted Sieley and his company for the "blatant commercially inspired breach" and added that the offence was "committed because of the defendant’s greed".

After the case, the Agency’s investigating officer Anna Pearce said: "Disposal of industrial effluent onto land has become more popular over recent years but as demonstrated by this incident, this type of waste can be very polluting if not dealt with correctly.

"Mr Sieley had a complete disregard for how his activities could cause pollution to the environment or how it caused almost intolerable smells, blighting the lives of local residents."

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