The operator of a landfill and a waste transfer site near Woodstock, Oxfordshire, has been fined £17,000 after ignoring several warnings from the Environment Agency (EA).
John Sheehan (Oxford) failed to control leachate within acceptable levels between 2013-16, leaving a risk of pollution. The company was also ordered to pay costs of £25,000 but was given credit for its guilty pleas and lack of previous convictions.
The EA said it had repeatedly warned the company it was breaching the terms of its permits for handling plasterboard at its landfill site and asbestos (pictured) at the waste transfer station.
Oxford Crown Court heard that putting plasterboard in such landfill sites was banned in 2005 due to the risk of noxious and toxic gases. The waste transfer station had stored asbestos for three months, way beyond the seven-day limit allowed by its permit.
Colin Chiverton, EA environment manager for Oxfordshire and the Thames Valley, said: “This £17,000 fine should send out a powerful message that permit breaches are very serious, and the EA will take appropriate enforcement action if warnings are ignored.”
In a statement, John Sheehan (Oxford) said: “This case could and should have been dealt with outside of court, which would have saved taxpayers money.
“The judge agreed no environmental harm was caused and the case was at the lowest end of the harm category. He agreed small amounts of plasterboard waste is inevitable in construction waste.
“During the case the EA extended our permit conditions from seven days to 12 months for the time we can hold asbestos.
“The company pleaded guilty in circumstances where it was proved by expert evidence that there had been no adverse effect on the water table. The expert evidence also demonstrated that the leachate level set in the permit conditions was not justified by site conditions, and we are currently applying for a variation to the permit to more accurately reflect the extremely low risk.
“We previously submitted a planning application to install technology to sort small amounts of plasterboard waste, but it was refused. Therefore, we employ best manual sorting practices. The resulting small fragments entering the landfill are almost impossible to remove from mixed construction waste.
“We are extremely proud of our dedication to sustainable construction, recycling and avoiding any pollution risks.
“We have invested significantly in complying with the terms of our permits, and follow all possible industry standard best practices to operate within the conditions of our permits. The company is working with the EA to ensure the site continues to be operated in a way which does not cause harm to the environment.”
In a separate case, Stephen Lack, who hired out and collected skips as Abbey Skips, near Corby, was handed a prison sentence of six months, suspended for two years, for carrying out illegal waste operations after an EA prosecution.
Lack pleaded guilty to operating without an environmental permit, depositing construction and demolition waste on land at Easton-on-the-Hill and failing to complete a waste transfer note for controlled waste.
He was also ordered to pay £9,185 towards the EA’s costs and a victim surcharge of £115.
Paul Salter, EA senior environmental crime officer, said: “Lack made a lot of money by avoiding disposal taxes, and put those who attended the nearby Fineshade Woods at risk by burning noxious materials.
“Burning waste is illegal and poses a serious risk to the environment and human health. The motive is nearly always financial because it reduces the amount of waste a company has to legally dispose of.”
This story was updated at 11.36 on 1 May to include a statement from John Sheehan (Oxford) and on 2 May.