A north-east businessman has been handed a suspended prison sentence after his company’s premises were destroyed in a waste fire.
The blaze at Melbray Chemicals on Durham Lane Industrial Estate, Eaglescliffe, Stockton-on-Tees, in March 2015 resulted in a chemical spill and more than £1m paid out by insurers to clean up the site and make it and other affected properties usable again.
Now the company’s managing director Brian Hannon has admitted two waste offences related to the incident.
At Teesside Crown Court, he was sentenced to six months in prison, suspended for 18 months. He was also ordered to pay £5,000 costs and an £80 victim surcharge.
The court heard how raw material was brought to the Eaglescliffe site for blending, while surplus stock, which included corrosive, flammable and toxic substances, was stored outside.
Craig Hassall, acting on behalf of the Environment Agency (EA), said there was no concreted surface to prevent chemicals from spilling into the ground, no bunded area to contain a spill or sealed drainage.
The EA reported the company’s production manager had no formal training during his 27 years with the firm and there was no commercial waste collection in place. It said staff were told by Hannon to burn waste on-site in a fire pit, which was close to the chemical drums.
The court heard that on 5 March 2015, staff burned paperwork and wooden pallets but did not ensure the fire was properly extinguished. Hannon admitted placing more materials in the burning area, not realising there could still be hot embers.
Two of the chemical containers ignited, creating thick black smoke. Staff failed to control the fire and the emergency services were called.
Hassall said it took several hours to put out the fire, Durham Lane was closed, several businesses were evacuated and residents were told to stay indoors.
An estimated 1,600 litres of formaldehyde spilled into the ground during the fire, and industrial-strength sulphuric and hydrochloric acids, which are extremely hazardous, leaked from their containers.
Hannon told the EA he was unaware that burning waste on his site was illegal, and admitted that he left the fire pit unattended on the day the blaze started.
Hannon, who had no criminal record and a number of good character references, suffered financially after the firm went into receivership following the fire.
After the court case, EA officer Iain Barker-Jones said: “Hannon ignored environmental law because he wanted to cut corners and save himself the cost of running his business legally.
“His reckless practices had a high price, though, because his business went up in smoke, and it was only due to the quick actions of the emergency services that there wasn’t a major pollution incident.”