Food giant Dairy Crest has been fined more than £1.5m for repeatedly dumping illegal amounts of sewage into Cornwall’s river systems from Britain’s largest oil mill.
The Davidstow Creamery in north Cornwall operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, processing 1.3 million liters of milk daily from 370 dairy farms.
Between 2016 and 2021, the facility regularly violated the terms of permits allowing wastewater to be discharged into the Inna River, a tributary of the Tamara.
At the time, it was operated by Dairy Crest, now known as Saputo Dairy UK, which had a profit of £21 million the previous year.
Sometimes it was so bad that the locals couldn’t leave their homes.Judge Simon Carr
The site had its own wastewater treatment plant, but it struggled to keep up with increased wastewater volumes when it expanded to include a “probiotic” dairy plant in 2014.
This violated legal emission limits for phosphorus, ammonium nitrate, particulate matter, and oxygen levels, and exposed nearby residents to overpowering odors that kept them in their homes.
Dairy Crest admitted 21 pollution and odor offenses in Truro Crown Court in December.
He also admitted that he caused two serious incidents that devastated the local river ecosystem.
In August 2016, a powerful biocide used to clean sewage tanks and pipelines was released, killing thousands of fish along a 2-kilometer section of the river.
He also pleaded guilty to releasing a large amount of suspended matter in August 2018 by covering a 5-kilometer section of the Inni River with black mud.
Dairy Crest also admitted that it failed to notify the EPA within 24 hours when something went wrong on seven occasions.
Handing down a £1.52 million fine on Thursday, Truro Crown Court judge Simon Carr said there was evidence of a poor management culture at the company.
We acknowledge that steps have been taken by Dairy Crest Limited to address various issues, but unfortunately in many cases these steps have not been fast enough and have not been effective in preventing contamination.Helen Dobby, Environmental Protection Agency
Judge Carr cited evidence that those responsible for wastewater treatment felt “intimidated and intimidated” by their line manager.
“This meant that they felt unable to voice concerns as they were personally criticized when limits were exceeded or missed,” he said.
In one case, an employee filmed a sewage monitor that had been removed from a sewage tank and placed in a bucket of clean water to cover violations of factory discharge permits.
Judge Carr also found that one of the major violations that resulted in damage to the ecosystem occurred “as a result of one of the employees placing material in one of the tanks, which was completely unsuitable and unauthorized.”
But he added: “After carefully reading the documentation, it turned out that this was not a widespread or systemic problem, (but) it was a problem that upper management should have addressed earlier.”
Judge Carr added that the problems persisted for many years and “poisoned the lives of those who lived nearby.”
“Sometimes it was so bad that the locals couldn’t leave their homes,” he said.
“While there is no evidence that the emissions actually posed a health hazard, those who lived nearby knew that they smelled of unpleasant emissions from a serious commercial concern and were undoubtedly concerned about their impact on health, as well as on their quality of life.” .
As the largest employer in north Cornwall, the company remains committed to supporting local communities and being a better neighbour.Company statement
The company was ordered to pay the full fine within 28 days and the court heard that it had previously agreed to pay legal costs of £273,000.
Helen Dobby, Regional Director of the Environmental Protection Agency, said: “As a large and well-established operator, Dairy Crest Limited must be able to maintain the required environmental standards.
“Instead, for years he did not honor his environmental permit and failed to protect local residents and the environment.”
She added: “We recognize that Dairy Crest Limited is taking steps to address various issues, but unfortunately, in many cases these actions have not been fast enough and have not been effective in combating pollution.”
The company stated, “Once again, the company would like to express its sincere apologies to those affected.
“There has been considerable work done to address the historical issues with which the prosecution has been associated.”
It further states: “The Company continues to invest significant resources in better technologies, processes and people to further improve its environmental performance and minimize its impact on the local community.
“As the largest employer in north Cornwall, the company remains committed to supporting its local communities and being a better neighbour.”