Fivemiletown Creamery fined £7,500 for polluting river

Published: 11 Dec 2012 15:30

Fivemiletown Creamery has been fined £7,500 for polluting a tributary of the Colebrooke River, which flows into Upper Lough Erne.

Fivemiletown Creamery has been fined £7,500 for polluting a tributary of the Colebrooke River, which flows into Upper Lough Erne.

Fermanagh Court heard that the company has spent £100,000 improving its effluent treatment system and the problem is unlikely to recur.

A prosecutor told the court that on January 17, a water quality inspector acting on behalf of the Northern Ireland Environment Agency received a report that the Cleen River was polluted. He inspected it the following day and found that it was "grossly polluted". The water was grey in colour, covered in sewage fungus and contained a large amount of sludge-like particles. It smelt strongly of creamery effluent. Samples were taken which subsequently confirmed that the discharge contained poisonous, noxious or polluting matter which was potentially harmful to fish life. It was also noted that there were blood worms in the water.

The inspector drove to the nearby Fivemiletown Creamery at Ballylurgan, Fivemiletown, and spoke to a production manager, who said he was already aware of the problem. When the inspector returned the following day the discharge had stopped.

The prosecutor explained that the company had a Consent to Discharge, permitting it to legally discharge effluent within certain limits. However, the biological oxygen demand of the effluent was 20 times that of even a poor quality waterway and the amount of suspended solids was more than 38 times the limit.

Defence solicitor Niall Bogue said the creamery was known as the Fivemiletown and Brookeborough Co-operative Agricultural and Dairy Society Ltd.

To which District Judge Liam McNally responded: "No wonder they call themselves Fivemiletown Creamery."

Mr. Bogue said the company had been in discussions with the Northern Ireland Environment Agency since 2009 and after this incident the whole system was pumped out. It was recognised that the effluent treatment system needed to be upgraded. Initially £40,000 was spent improving the system and then in November last year a further £60,000 was invested in a filtration system.

He explained that it was the first time the company had come to the attention of the court for an offence of this nature and asked the District Judge to view it as a "one off". He pointed out that the creamery, which employs around 60 people, had spent £100,000 in difficult trading conditions, and there had been no repetition of the pollution.

The District Judge said it struck him as a "very bad case" and that parliament treated it as a serious offence with a maximum fine of £20,000 when the maximum is normally £5,000.

He said the photographs showed that the drain was "heavily contaminated" with creamery effluent, sludge and sewage scum and there were blood worms in the water.

"It appears to me that must have been obvious to the company," he stated. "It had been like that for a number of days and eventually the pipe was turned off but really that should have been done the minute it was noticed."

The District Judge said he was taking into account the company's admission of guilt, its clear record and the steps which it had taken and was satisfied "that this problem has been rectified and is unlikely to occur again" and he had to give it credit for that.

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