Paper products firm fined for turning river red

Multinational greetings card and gift wrap producer Scandinavian Design has been ordered to pay more than £17,000 after it polluted the river Rhymney with firewater and killed 100 brown trout.

The company is part of International Greetings plc which produces gift wrap, cards, ribbons and crackers. It has a turnover of £197 million and operations in the Netherlands, the US and China. Ironically, its chairman John Elfed Jones is the former head of Welsh Water.

Scandinavian Design produces gift wrap and accessories in South Wales but there was a fire at its site in Aberbargoed, Glamorgan, in May 2005. Firewater from the blaze entered the river and turned the water bright red for a kilometre as solvents, dyes, inks and waxes stored on the site were released.

The incident prompted an investigation by the Environment Agency which found much of the pollution could have been mitigated if the site had been equipped with better firewater retention systems.

Many materials had also been stored in inappropriate places, increasing the amount of material escaping into surface water drains.

The firewater polluted two ponds, where 100 brown trout were killed and entered the nearby river Rhymney.

The Agency pressed two charges against the company. Appearing before Blackwood magistrates on 12 February, Scandinavian admitted causing polluting matter to enter controlled waters, contrary to section 85(1) of the Water Resources Act 1991, and causing waters to be poisonous to fish, contrary to section 4 of the Freshwater Fisheries Act 1975.

Scandinavian was fined £7,000 on the first charge and £1,200 on the second. It was also ordered to pay investigation and legal costs of over £9,000.

But the company also told the court it had had to spend £200,000 to clean up after the incident. It had also spent £1.2 million upgrading the site’s storage facilities and drainage system.

Agency officer Eleanor Smart commented: "It is important to remember that even in the event of an emergency, causing pollution is still liable to enforcement action. It is essential that businesses take all the necessary precautions to ensure that both wastes and materials are stored safely and contingency plans drawn up."