In 2012 the Environment Agency (EA) became increasingly concerned at Suez’s management of leachate (contaminated water) at the site, it said in a statement, after heavy rain had caused leachate levels to rise rapidly beyond limits specified by the site’s environmental permit.
In January 2013, following reports from members of the public, EA officers visited the site and found two nearby watercourses, the Widowpath and Connon Streams, affected by sewage fungus for a distance of approximately 4km – which is a sign of organic pollution.
“The negligent failings of the landfill operator resulted in pollution both by odour and to local watercourses. The judge in this case acknowledged, in particular, the distress caused to the local community by the odour.”
Local residents started complaining of unpleasant odours caused by “inadequately controlled emissions” of landfill gas at Connon Bridge and it was apparent the site operator was “struggling to regain control” of the landfill, the EA says.
An investigation found that there had been spillages of leachate onto uncontained areas of the site. Surface water had been contaminated by leachate, and leachate had compromised water quality in a groundwater drainage culvert beneath the site. The EA says Suez resorted to “unauthorised methods of disposal” in an attempt to remove large volumes of contaminated surface water from the site, pumping it onto adjacent fields.
The EA began monitoring the impact of the leachate spillages on the Widowpath and Connon Bridge Streams and claimed it was the “worst outbreak of sewage fungus in the area for 20 years”.
Simon Harry, of the EA, said: “People living close to Connon Bridge landfill will not have forgotten the appalling odours that emanated from this site in 2013. The negligent failings of the landfill operator resulted in pollution both by odour and to local watercourses. The judge in this case acknowledged, in particular, the distress caused to the local community by the odour.”
At a sentencing hearing at Truro Crown Court on Friday, 3 February 2017, Suez was fined £180,000 and ordered to pay £325,000 costs after pleading guilty to 6 offences under the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2010, including failure to comply with leachate level limits specified by an environmental permit, allowing leachate to overflow from a leachate extraction point, unauthorised emissions of contaminated water, failure to comply with water quality emission limits, failing to notify the Environment Agency and causing odour pollution.
The sentencing hearing marked the end of a lengthy and complex investigation lasting 4 years.
A spokesperson for SUEZ said in a statement: “Like many other landfill sites around the country, Connon Bridge Landfill experienced issues managing leachate and landfill gas during the exceptionally wet weather conditions experienced throughout 2012.
“We have not sought to shy away from these shortcomings and pleaded guilty to six of the eleven charges at the earliest opportunity, co-operating with the Environment Agency throughout its investigations and the subsequent court proceedings. We contested the remaining five charges and these were not pursued.
“We deeply regret that, despite our best endeavours, we were unable to maintain full compliance at the site during 2012 and early 2013…”
“We deeply regret that, despite our best endeavours, we were unable to maintain full compliance at the site during 2012 and early 2013 but are pleased that the judge recognised that our overall compliance record, across our 211 operational sites (of which 11 are active landfill), around the country is good and we do our best to manage waste in compliance with our environmental permits.
“We have taken steps to improve leachate management at the site in the event there should be a further period of prolonged heavy rainfall. These include reducing the size of the operational area, increasing the use of temporary capping to reduce rainfall entering the waste, upgrading the leachate treatment plant to improve the efficiency and the volume of leachate it can handle and increasing the dedicated extraction of leachate from gas wells.
“We worked with the Environment Agency to bring Connon Bridge Landfill back into compliance and continue to work with the Agency as we move towards the closure of the site by December 2018.”