Page last updated at 17:34 GMT, Thursday, 18 February 2010

Flintshire cement factory's 250,000 safety fine

Castle Cement works at Padeswood, Flintshire
The company breached procedures despite enforcement notices

A cement factory in Flintshire has admitted safety breaches which could potentially have caused a cancer risk.

Castle Cement Ltd admitted four charges relating to dust and noise nuisances at Padeswood as well as two fires which released potentially dangerous smoke.

The Environment Agency Wales (EAW) said the £300,000 in fines and costs was one of the highest ever court awards.

Despite the possible increased risk of cancer, and other illnesses, Mold Crown Court heard no cases had been detected.

The charges covered a period between August 2005 and May 2007.

The company also asked for a further offence bringing matters up to October 2009 - involving an escape of 250 tonnes of dust from a broken pipe - to be taken into consideration.

EAW said the fine and total costs were "one of the highest ever awarded for an environmental offence in the UK".

Judge John Rogers QC said it was accepted there was no evidence of actual harm to any members of the public.

These specific incidents could have been avoided if the company had complied with its permit and the notices we served
Dave Edwell, Environment Agency Wales

However, it was clear there was potential risk from the dust and carcinogenic materials in the smoke.

He said: "These were persistent breaches of the permit conditions resulting in dust emissions, smoke emissions from burning tyres and other materials, and unacceptable noise levels."

He added: "Emissions of dust and the fire particles put the general public to some potential risk of injury to their health."

He said the breaches continued despite enforcement notices from EAW.

In mitigation, the company had co-operated throughout the investigation and had pleaded guilty at the earliest opportunity.

The judge said he was satisfied the company had invested £1.8m trying to improve procedures.

The court heard how EAW officials installed CCTV cameras, which revealed they were not being notified of emissions.

Carcinogenic smoke

Prosecuting barrister Barry Berlin said the public were potentially put at risk to health from the inhalation of dust and potentially carcinogenic smoke.

Emissions from the works caused "a measurable increment" in concentrations of airborne particles, measured as PM10.

The fires at the works were also a source of "polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons", which were genotoxic carcinogens.

Even small exposure carried a small risk of causing cancer.

The carcinogenic emissions did not exceed European levels.

Mr Berlin said that there was a risk for potential harm but no evidence of actual harm.

'Permits'

The present offences occurred following the commission of the new large £70 million Kiln Four which replaced three earlier kilns in August 2005.

The court heard the company had been fined £99,000 in March 2006 for breaches involving the release of dioxins from the old kilns.

Dave Edwell, of EAW, said: "These specific incidents could have been avoided if the company had complied with its permit and the notices we served.

"They did not, and people and the environment were affected as a result.

"Sites like these are an important part of the economy in the area, providing jobs and an income for people.

"But, they have to operate in a responsible way that doesn't cause problems for the local area."

Mr Edwell said EAW would take action "against any company that does not comply with the strict conditions we set in the environmental permits we issue".

The company admitted that it failed to maintain all plant and equipment in a good operating condition, failed to comply with enforcement notices, failed to operate appropriate techniques to minimise fugitive dust emissions and failed to control excess noise and vibration at the plant.

The court heard that local residents had complained of dust, noise and vibration, and being unable to sell their properties.

John Wyn Williams, defending, stressed that there was no actual harm or injury to human health, or the environment.

He said the company was "extremely different" to the one operating before 2007.



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