Watchdog investigating hike in toxic chemical pollution from two industrial sites

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) is investigating a sharp increase in heavy metal and chemical pollution from two wood-chipping plants, it has confirmed.

According to the Scottish Pollution Release Inventory for 2021, emissions of formaldehyde at the Cowie panel processing site in Stirling doubled to 147,000 kg in 2021.

Formaldehyde has been classified as a cancer causing chemical in humans by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC).

At the same time, the data shows there was also a 39% increase in arsenic emissions and a 16% rise in mercury emissions from the same site. 

The IARC has classified high-level and long-term exposure to arsenic and its compounds as “cancer causing”, and exposure to elemental mercury has been associated with nausea, flu-like symptoms, breathlessness and chest pain.

ENDS has contacted Norbord Europe Ltd, the firm which operates the Cowie plant, for comment. 

The data also shows that there was an increase in arsenic, mercury and formaldehyde pollution at a chipboard production and wood recycling plant owned by Egger, at Barony in East Ayrshire.

This site was responsible for Scotland’s highest emissions of lead (787 kilograms) in 2021, the data shows.  According to the Health and Safety Executive, exposure to lead is associated with infertility, effects on the nervous system and changes in the blood.

Heiko Lichtblau, plant director at Egger Barony, said: “As a responsible manufacturer, we meet all of our environmental obligations. We are regulated by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency under Integrated Pollution Prevention Control, and do not exceed the permitted limits.

“Aside from formaldehyde, the emissions listed come from the re-processing of recycled wood used to produce our chipboard panels. Formaldehyde is naturally emitted from wood during the drying process which is a vital part of the chipboard manufacturing process.

A spokesperson from Scottish watchdog said the increase in emissions of heavy metals and other chemicals from these two sites is “currently being investigated”.

The spokesperson added that “year to year variations in emissions data is expected and observed due to the sampling frequency, manufacturing process and variations of the waste wood input.”

“SEPA requires operators to comply with UK protocols to protect the environment. They must test for, and reject, recycled wood contaminated with halogenated products such as preservatives and paints. They must also monitor heavy metals and other chemicals and report these values to SEPA. The emissions data reported in SPRI is based on this monitoring data.”

The article has been changed. An earlier version stated that emissions of formaldehyde at the Cowie panel processing site in Stirling doubled to 147,000 tonnes in 2021.