Environmental problems signal closure for coke works

British Coal subsidiary Coal Products Ltd (CPL) is expected shortly to announce the closure of its Avenue coke works near Chesterfield. The cost of improving the management of its liquid effluents is likely to be the last straw which will end the plant's 37-year history.

The Avenue works processes more than 500,000 tonnes of coal annually to produce coke, mainly for the domestic market. Effluent from the process is pumped into a series of lagoons on a former spoil tip which has been turned into a country park. After settlement, much of the waste, which contains ammonia and phenols, goes to sewer.

A recent investigation by the National Rivers Authority (NRA) found that 40% of the waste has been seeping into underground mine workings. This does not appear to have caused any environmental problems, but the NRA has decided to authorise the discharge for only one year.

The lagoons are on land belonging to Derbyshire County Council. They intrude on the country park and have provoked public complaints. The council has announced that CPL's lease will not be renewed when it expires next March.

The NRA's main concern is over tar residues in the river Rother adjacent to the Avenue works. It recently completed a £10,000 operation to remove contaminated sediment from the river, and collected samples of a tarry discharge which is seeping through joints in a culvert.

The NRA believes that the source is an old waste tip on CPL's site which received tar distillation wastes. It is now gathering evidence with a view to prosecuting the company and recovering the costs of the clean-up operation.

CPL's Managing Director, John Taylor, commented that the Avenue works is in financial difficulties, caused mainly by declining domestic demand for smokeless fuel and the need to bring coal from further away to maintain supplies of sufficient quality. He also suggested that the company expects to make a major announcement about the plant's future which would address its effluent problems.

CPL recently submitted an application for an authorisation for the works under integrated pollution control (IPC). HM Inspectorate of Pollution has until October to determine the application, but could well ask for an extension of the decision period. The company does not anticipate any difficulties in complying with IPC in the short term, but in any event the application may do no more than buy time for the plant to close before next April.

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