Metal recycler fined over storm of green dust

European Metal Recycling, the UK’s largest recycling company, has been fined £5,000 after causing rock wool fibres to "snow down" over a Hartlepool industrial estate. The fibres caused several people to come out in rashes and have difficulty breathing.

On 7 June last year, environmental health officers called the Environment Agency to an incident at the Longhill industrial estate in Hartlepool.

An Agency officer attended the scene and found green dust covering EMR’s site as well as the roofs of neighbouring buildings.

Earlier that day, the company had been shredding sheets of insulating material made of rock wool. They had, though, managed to overload the fragmentiser, causing its air suction system to malfunction and plumes of dust to "snow down" over the area.

The dust forced at least one person on the estate to go home after experiencing problems breathing. Other people on the estate complained of itchy skin and eyes caused by the dust.

Appearing before Hartlepool magistrates on 7 April, the company pleaded guilty to causing pollution of the environment and harm to human health, contrary to sections 33(1) and 33(6) of the Environmental Protection Act 1990.

The company was fined £5,000 with £842 costs. In mitigation, EMR said it had stopped the machine as soon as it became aware of the problem, and had cleaned up the whole estate as soon as it could.