One of Britain’s largest dairies has admitted to dumping illegal amounts of foul-smelling sewage into a river in Cornwall, killing thousands of fish with a potent chemical and destroying the local ecosystem.
Dairy Crest, who was fined more than £1.5million, violated permit conditions that allowed it to discharge wastewater from its Davidstow Creamery in north Cornwall, where the popular Cathedral City cheese is made.
A strong biocide used to clean sewer tanks and pipes was released into the Inny River, which flows into the Tamar River, killing thousands of fish over a 1.2-mile stretch of water in August 2016.
A 5 km (three miles) stretch of the Inny was also covered in black silt two years later.
Prevailing odors from “dirty discharge” prevented people living nearby from leaving their homes, Truro Crown Court heard.
The breaches occurred over a five-year period from 2016, despite the site having its own wastewater treatment plant.
Employees responsible for the wastewater supply felt “bullied and intimidated” by their line manager, the court was told.
The Davidstow Creamery, which operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, processes 1.3 million liters of milk daily from 370 dairies.
The site struggled to handle the volumes of liquid waste — known as effluent — when it expanded operations in 2014 to house a probiotic dairy plant.
At the time it was operated by Dairy Crest – now known as Saputo Dairy UK, which made a profit of £21 million last year.
The company – which claims to be the largest employer in North Cornwall – admitted 21 violations related to pollution and odor incidents at Truro Crown Court in December.
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It also admitted that it had failed to notify the Environment Agency within 24 hours of seven serious mishaps.
Judge Simon Carr, who handed the company a £1.52 million fine in court on Thursday, said there was evidence of a poor management culture at the company.
The fine is the largest ever awarded for a Southwest Environment Agency conviction.
The problems continued for many years and “ruined the lives of those who lived in the area,” added Judge Carr.
“Sometimes it was so bad that people living on site couldn’t leave their homes,” he said.
“While there is no evidence that the discharges actually posed a health risk, those who lived in the area knew they smelled foul discharge from a significant commercial company and were undoubtedly concerned about the impact on health and their quality of life. .”
The company was ordered to pay the full fine within 28 days and previously agreed to pay court costs of £273,000.
The Environment Agency’s area director, Helen Dobby, criticized Dairy Crest for failing to protect residents and the environment.
She added: “We recognize that Dairy Crest Limited has taken steps to resolve the various issues, but unfortunately on many occasions these actions have not been swift enough and have proved ineffective in stopping the pollution.”
Dairy Crest offered its “sincere apologies” to all those affected by the breaches and said it “continues to be committed to supporting local communities and being a better neighbor”.
“A lot of work has been done to rectify the historical problems faced by the prosecution,” the company said in a statement.
“The company continues to invest significant resources in best-in-class technology, processes and people to further improve environmental performance and minimize impact on the local community.”