Polluting Perthshire chicken factory plaguing residents with bad smells

A chicken slaughterhouse in Coupar Angus owned by one of Scotland’s largest food processors has continually breached environmental regulations while plaguing locals with “gut wrenching” odours and other issues.

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) has given the 2 Sisters factory a draft pollution prevention rating of “poor” for failing to comply with regulations, according to data obtained under freedom of information law.

Sepa also received some 60 complaints between August 2017 and October 2019, relating mostly to its stench, as well as construction noise in the early hours, chemical spills and seagulls.

Internal reports show that Sepa officers described the odours as “sewage sludge”, “waste” and “rotten meat”. Residents described them as “chemical and rotten flesh”, like “sulphur”, “dead bodies”, “hellish”, “gut wrenching” and “S***E”.

Residents also said the odour had left them unable to open their windows, enjoy their gardens, hang out washing, allow family to visit, or “get a decent night’s sleep”. Local MSPs said they had received “repeated” odour complaints from constituents.

The SNP’s John Swinney MSP said he would discuss with 2 Sisters the “deeply troubling” reports and ways “to restore local confidence in the factory.” The Scottish Greens’ Mark Ruskell MSP called for polluting factories to be subject to fines, prosecution and the loss of operating licenses.

Sepa officers deemed the odours “offensive” on five occasions and said they were pursuing issues with the operator.

2 Sisters Food Group said it was “disappointed” with the factory’s current environmental performance. It stressed that it took its responsibilities to the environment and the local community “extremely seriously” and had shared a “robust action plan” with Sepa.

What environmental regulations did 2 Sisters breach?

Sepa’s internal reports revealed the site’s many environmental failings, which led to the current draft pollution prevention and control rating of “poor” in 2018.

A report from 7 January involved a blocked drainage system at the factory which led to a local resident discovering foul smelling water with “white stuff” in their garden. This issue had been “ongoing since Boxing day” and risked polluting soil and groundwater.

Upon visiting the factory, a Sepa officer reported that “grey discharge could be seen from a surcharging manhole along with rags and blue plastic gloves”. The problem was resolved after a factory worker “scraped” the discharge from the resident’s garden, while the drain was cleaned and fitted with pumps and a sensor to detect future overflow.

2 Sisters posed another pollution risk to soil and groundwater by failing to maintain cracked concrete in the abattoir’s delivery area.

Some issues involved the factory’s odour, which led to a stench outwith the site. Sepa said 2 Sisters failed to replace and maintain odour-blocking carbon filters, including in areas of the factory where birds were eviscerated and where blood and “sludge” were stored.

One Sepa report notes that a factory worker admitted there was “no routine replacement” of the filters. Filters were only replaced when they smelled and none were used for several hours at a time while the change took place, the report said.

The report added that used filters had also been “emptied next to a skip next to a venting fan” and that staff were “nose blind and desensitised to the odour”. The issue was resolved with the use of “standby” filters, with used filters double bagged to contain the odour.

Another odour problem involved the depletion of sodium hydrochlorite from the factory’s air pollution control device, a chemical which Sepa said is “essential to the efficient operation of the odour abatement system”.

Some issues related to the factory failing to handle and store waste and chemicals appropriately. One issue involved potentially polluting chemicals being stored outwith a protected area designed to prevent their escape. Another saw waste materials stored on site, including dead birds, viscera and feathers, exceed the permitted quantities.

Other faults included the site having no clear allocation of responsibilities for environmental performance amongst internal staff and failing to implement the findings of a noise assessment in the factory’s noise management plan.

The site’s pollution permit was previously rated “broadly compliant” in 2017, “poor” in 2016, “excellent” in 2015, and “poor” in 2014.

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What did complainants say?

Sepa’s internal reports detail the complaints made about the factory by local residents, most of which related to odour. Some complaints involved the factory attracting gulls, which residents claimed were fouling on their cars.

In one report, a Sepa officer spotted “about 15 seagulls along Strathmore Avenue and Princes Croft that were dive-bombing the Postman”, as well as “a fairly large amount of defecation”.

On a separate occasion, a complainant reported a “burnt diesel odour over the last month, blackened windows and construction noise” at 2am. The smell of diesel left them feeling “nauseated” and “coughing”, according to the report, which noted 2 Sisters’ acknowledgement that even its own workers had complained about the smell.

One complaint involved a blocked sewage drain which “allowed polluted air to escape the site”.

A previous investigation by The Ferret found the factory had received 76 complaints between January 2016 and August 2017, which also related mostly to odour, as well as a chemical spill, noise pollution and blood dripping from a lorry.

Sepa had ordered 2 Sisters to produce an improvement plan to tackle the offensive smells at the site by June 2017, which Sepa said had been complied with “on the whole”. But local residents say the problem has persisted in what has been a years-long battle with the slaughterhouse.

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Polluting factories should face ‘prosecution’

John Swinney MSP, whose Perthshire constituency includes Coupar Angus, has previously written “repeatedly” to 2 Sisters about its odour issues.

Swinney told The Ferret that he had been “continually monitoring the situation” at the factory and had “frequently liaised with the management team to emphasise their responsibilities both to the environment and the wider community.”

He said: “Accordingly, the latest reports regarding practices at the factory are deeply troubling. I am in the process of arranging to meet with the 2 Sisters management team to discuss these allegations, along with reasonable steps that can be taken to restore local confidence in the factory.”

Michael Gallagher, the founder of local action group 2 Sisters Coupar Angus Pollution Watch said it was “clear” from Sepa’s report that the factory’s management was “shambolic”.

He said: “No one knows who is responsible for what, so that simple things like changing the carbon filters don’t get done. The worst thing is that the same problems are being reported by Sepa month after month, which suggests that the management is doing nothing about them.”

Local Green MSP Mark Ruskell said that he had received “repeated complaints from local residents in recent years, when the town has been engulfed in smells described to me as vile and sickening.”

He said: “Food and farming are the lifeblood of this area, but these businesses can’t be allowed to carry out their work in a way that severely impacts on the wellbeing of local residents.

“My constituents in Coupar Angus need reassuring that the strictest possible measures will be put in place to ensure the poultry plant and farm make serious improvements – including the possibility of fines, prosecution and ultimately plants losing their operating licenses.”

Sepa confirmed that its officers had attended the site on “several occasions” to investigate the complaints and carry out odour assessments.

Officers had “required the operator to identify all potential sources of odour so that appropriate odour management techniques can be implemented at the site”, a Sepa spokesperson said. “We will be following up this matter with the operator to reduce the impact of odours from the site on the local community.”

2 Sisters Food Group claimed that the factory had received also “good and satisfactory” ratings from Sepa in 2018, adding that it was “disappointed with current progress, which in the main relates to odour control and management.”

A spokesperson said: “The site’s new leadership team takes its environmental responsibilities extremely seriously, as well as ensuring we are a good neighbour. This is why our robust action plan, which we have shared with Sepa, will remedy the odour issues and provide tangible improvements across the site.”

Poll: Should firms that produce noxious smells face tougher penalties?

Ammonia, food safety and hygiene

In June, we reported that farming sites releasing the largest amount of ammonia pollution were owned by the poultry manufacturer Hook 2 Sisters, a joint venture between 2 Sisters Food Group and P.D. Hook (Group). Ammonia poses a risk both to the environment and human health, particularly when it combines with vehicle and industrial pollution to form tiny airborne particles.

Two of its operations, in Broxburn and Alloa, were the first and second most polluting sites in Scotland respectively. Another of its sites, at Balado Airport in Kinross took fifth place.

Also in 2017, an undercover investigation by the Guardian and ITV News revealed that workers at 2 Sisters’ factory in West Bromwich routinely fiddled the slaughter date of poultry to extend “use by” dates.

Chicken scandal firm given £1.3 million by Scottish Government

This led to increased surprise food safety inspections and the review of “available” CCTV footage at the Coupar Angus slaughterhouse by government watchdog Food Standards Scotland (FSS).

The Ferret and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism previously identified the 2 Sisters Coupar Angus site as one of seven slaughterhouses where serious breaches of Scottish animal welfare rules had been highlighted in separate audits carried out in 2016 by FSS inspectors.

In 2018, we reported that 2 Sisters Poultry Limited received £1.3 million from the Scottish Government to support its Coupar Angus slaughterhouse. The company, which uses the site as its registered head office, and a related firm had previously been given £573,000 in government handouts from Scottish Enterprise.

These public subsidies sparked outrage from local residents and the Scottish Greens, who said the Scottish Government was “subsidising polluting industrial chicken production” from a company that has “little regard for animal welfare or environmental standards.”

Sepa’s internal reports

This story was published in tandem with the Sunday National.

Image by skeeze from Pixabay.

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