Rugby landfill rejection underlines tough approach to hazardous waste

RMC subsidiary Rugby Cement has suffered the ignominy of chalking up the first rejected application for a hazardous waste landfill permit under the Environment Agency's programme to bring sites up to EU landfill Directive standards. Its competitor, Castle Cement, has secured a permit for an in-house hazardous landfill - but another of Castle's applications looks to be in doubt. Syngenta, Ineos Chlor and Alcan have yet to have their applications determined.

In-house landfill operation was once common practice in the chemicals, metals and cement sectors. But it appears that the EU landfill Directive is having the effect of closing many in-house sites.

The Agency has so far issued seven permits for hazardous waste landfills out of more than 20 applications submitted last year (ENDS Report 343, pp 17-18 ). Only one of these is for an in-house landfill facility - Castle Cement's Grange Top site at Ketton, Lincolnshire, used for the disposal of cement kiln dust.

Three of the other permits are for landfills taking contaminated soils and asbestos. Another three are merchant facilities designed to take a wide range of wastes: Zero Waste's site on Teesside, Hills' in Swindon and Atlantic Waste's near Peterborough.

Several chemical firms decided against going through with permit applications for hazardous waste landfill operations. But Syngenta is awaiting a permitting decision regarding its Bradley Park landfill near Huddersfield, as are Ineos Chlor in Runcorn and Alcan for its Newbiggin site in Northumberland.

Companies losing their right to deposit hazardous waste will find themselves reliant on the merchant waste management sector. However, hazardous waste landfill capacity is set to shrink dramatically following the 16 July ban on co-disposal (ENDS Report 351, pp 30-33 ).

In the longer term, many industrial waste producers will hope to pre-treat their wastes for acceptance in cells for stabilised, non-reactive hazardous waste at ordinary landfills. The Agency has so far received applications for 38 such facilities, and in May its director of environmental protection, Paul Leinster, wrote to these applicants with a view to discussing their plans and establishing which permit applications might merit prioritisation.

The Agency announced its decision to refuse Rugby Cement's application by way of a press release issued on 10 May. "The application did not contain enough detail to allow the Agency to grant a permit, despite attempts to obtain that information from the company," the statement said.

Rugby is taking legal advice. Among its options are to appeal the decision or to reapply. The company claimed that the decision was a surprise and that the Agency's press release gave "the first indication that our application was deficient in any way".

In fact, details on the public register reveal that the Agency had requested an inventory of additional information last year having considered the initial permit application, dated June 2003. Among the details sought was a revised hydrological risk assessment to consider the full range of trace substances in leachate, to take account of previously tipped areas of the site and to consider the site's full life cycle.

"From the information provided to date, the risk assessment does not reflect the proposed landfill design and it is not compliant with the landfill Directive," the Agency's notice said.

Baseline groundwater monitoring data were not included in the application, and there was no methodology submitted to explain the derivation of proposed trigger and control levels. Site drawings failed to identify the location of leachate and groundwater monitoring points.

The Agency also requested a quantitative chemical assay of cement kiln dust from the Rugby works. And it sought an assessment of background concentrations of fine particulates (PM10), along with a quantification of the landfill's contribution to PM10 levels.

Particulate levels are a particularly sensitive issue for Rugby Cement and local campaigners. The plant is very close to residential areas in which high background levels of PM10 have been recorded.

Rugby Borough Council and the Primary Health Trust - both statutory consultees with respect to site permitting - have been pressing the Agency for action to cut dust emissions from the cement works (ENDS Report 345, pp 9-10 ). They also called for an improved assessment of the risks associated with the landfill application. But Rugby Cement argues that the landfill would not contribute to particulate levels because water is added to the cement kiln dust before disposal.

Rugby requested four months to come up with the revised assessments, but the Agency allowed the company only two months to respond. Its final determination notice says that Rugby had still not addressed many of the issues adequately.

There remained no representative assay of the cement kiln dust, nor of the potential contribution to PM10 levels. And the groundwater risk assessment needs to be "fully reconsidered".

Meanwhile, Warwickshire County Council has raised concerns regarding the validity of the landfill's planning consent. One problem is that cement kiln dust containing more than 10% calcium oxide is now classified as "hazardous" waste but it was not when the planning consent was issued.

The permit refusal leaves Rugby in a tricky situation. For the time being it will continue to rely on its nearby Southam landfill. But for Southam to continue in operation beyond July, the site will need an extension to its planning consent as well as a permit from the Agency.

The Rugby works generates between 5,000 and 20,000 tonnes of waste dust per year, depending on kiln performance, and the extent to which the dust can be used for other purposes, like blending back into the product. The costs of hauling this material to a third-party landfill would be considerable.

Meanwhile, Castle Cement looks unlikely to gain consent for its Coplow Quarry landfill, which currently serves the Ribblesdale kiln in Lancashire. Castle may now have to speed up plans for a new landfill operation nearby.

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