Case report: fine and order to pay compensation for dumping asbestos

On 22 June 2018, Truro Crown Court ordered Glebe Quarry Limited to pay £26,500 in fines and costs and £17,000 in compensation for illegally handling and disposing of hazardous waste. The court also ordered the company to proactively inform the Environment Agency (EA) which sites they are sending waste to in the future and to take remedial action at the sites where they dumped waste.

The Facts

The court heard that Glebe Quarry Limited, which traded as 1st Call Skips, operated a permitted waste transfer station at Glebe Quarry near Roche, St Austell. The offences occurred at three sites in Cornwall, their own station, a local farm and a site operated by the china clay company, Imerys Minerals Ltd.  On 6 December 2017, the company also pleaded guilty to five separate offences at Truro Crown Court.

The EA had advised the company to improve the drainage and concreting at Glebe Quarry, which they had found to be “inadequate”. No action was taken, so the EA issued an enforcement notice requesting that improvement works be undertaken. Glebe Quarry Limited appealed, but the Planning Inspectorate dismissed it. The company was therefore forced to carry out the improvements, which were completed in November 2016.

The EA undertook further checks and found that the company had unlawfully dumped over 2400t of waste on land which was not authorised through a site permit. Some of the waste was contaminated with asbestos. The company was warned that if it continued illegally dumping waste, it would be committing an offence, however the activity continued.

In 2015, the company had also sent waste which should have been suitable for land improvement to Imerys, for restoring an area of china clay spoil heaps. It was later found to have also been contaminated with asbestos. The asbestos was discovered prior to the waste being spread and was returned to Glebe Quarry. Nearly 50t of hazardous material was removed by the company but as no paperwork was kept, it was never traced.

The company also supplied waste to local farms for use in low-risk activities, for instance, in the construction of farm tracks. This was completed under the waste permit exemption. The company supplied waste which was heavily contaminated with asbestos to one farm, with the cost of clean-up amounting to nearly £120,000.

The Decision

Glebe Quarry Limited was fined £12,500 for offences under the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2010, the Hazardous Waste (England and Wales) Regulations 2005, and the Environmental Protection Act 1990. It was also ordered to pay £14,000 in costs.

The company was ordered to pay a further £17,000 in compensation to the local farmer following the waste contaminated with asbestos being dumped on his land.

In addition to the financial penalties, the court ordered that Glebe Quarry Limited must proactively inform the EA which sites it is sending its waste to in the future and must also remedy the sites it has polluted.

Speaking after the case, Matthew Lee of the EA said:

This case sends a clear message to those who put profit ahead of the environment and human health. As a minimum, we expect waste companies who hold environmental permits to act legally and should set an example to others, but the behaviour in this case has fallen far short of exemplary.

Comment

The company seems to have had the full range of sentencing options available to the court imposed on it at some point: enforcement actions, fines, compensation, remedial action and proactive action. While the financial penalties are immediate and remedial action can be addressed relatively quickly, an order to inform the EA about which sites it is sending its waste to represents an ongoing duty of compliance. This ancillary order can thus be used where the court considers an additional deterrent factor was necessary to stop future offending behaviour. For the company, this means regular contact with its regulator in relation to essentially business decisions. It does seem that with the new wave of sanctions available for environment offences, that courts are increasingly becoming more punitive and considering a wider range of measures.