Scotland’s most polluting companies have been named and shamed in a new database compiled by the government’s Scottish Environment Protection Agency.
Among those who topped the “dirty dozen” pollution league in 2017 were the Grangemouth petrochemical giant, Ineos, and the oil multinationals, Shell and ExxonMobil.
Other leading polluters included plants run by the arms firm, Raytheon, in Glenrothes, the pharmaceutical company, GSK, in Irvine and the technology company, Texas Instruments, in Greenock.
Toxic emissions from a chemical factory run by CalaChem in Grangemouth rose sharply between 2016 and 2017. Releases of dangerous dioxins from the Baldovie waste incinerator in Dundee also increased.
The pollution has been condemned by environmentalists, who are demanding action to cut emissions. Companies have defended their records, stressing they are investing in improvements to cut pollution.
The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) has published online the latest Scottish Pollution Release Inventory, covering 2017. Emissions of up to 180 pollutants to air, water, land and sewers were reported by 1,237 industrial sites across the country.
Ineos was by far the biggest emitter of the main greenhouse gas blamed for disrupting the climate, carbon dioxide. Its Petroineos oil refinery at Grangemouth emitted 1.6 million tonnes of the gas.
The plant also reported an accidental release of 370 kilograms of the toxic compound, tetrachloroethylene, during maintenance in February 2017. The release was below environmental safety limits.
Four other Ineos facilities at Grangemouth featured in Scotland’s top 12 carbon dioxide emitters. They were Grangemouth Combined Heat and Power at number four; Ineos Chemicals at number six: Ineos Infrastructure at number eight; and Ineos FPS at number 11.
Ineos tries to block pollution controls on flaring at Grangemouth
The second-highest carbon dioxide emitter was SSE’s gas-fired power station at Peterhead, emitting nearly a million tonnes in 2017. Third was ExxonMobil’s ethylene plant at Mossmorran in Fife, with Tarmac’s cement works at Dunbar in East Lothian fifth.
Avondale landfill site at Polmont in Falkirk emitted the most methane in Scotland, a powerful greenhouse gas. It was also rated by Sepa as “very poor” for environmental compliance in 2017.
Shell’s St Fergus gas plant near Peterhead emitted the most nitrous oxide, another greenhouse gas. At its plant in Greenock, Texas Instruments topped the league on perfluorocarbon emissions, which also worsen climate change.
GSK’s pharmaceuticals factory in Irvine emitted the most hydrofluorocarbons, while the Raytheon arms factory in Glenrothes released the most sulphur hexafluoride. They are both also greenhouse gases.
Aside from climate pollution, the CalaChem chemical works in Grangemouth emitted three hazardous chemicals: methylene chloride and toluene to water, and ethylbenzene to air. In each case they were the highest in Scotland, and more than in 2016.
The waste incinerator at Baldovie in Dundee released more highly toxic dioxins than any other plant in 2017, as well as more of the heavy metal, cadmium – both at higher rates than in 2016. The German energy firm, MVV, bought the incinerator from Dundee City Council in November 2017.
Scotland’s top 12 polluters
|Company||Site||Pollution in 2017|
|Petroineos oil refinery||Grangemouth||Emitted 1.6 million tonnes of the greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide - far more than any other plant in Scotland - and had an accidental release of tetrachloroethylene.|
|SSE gas power station||Peterhead||Emitted 950,295 tonnes of carbon dioxide, the second highest.|
|ExxonMobil ethylene plant||Mossmorran, Fife||Emitted 892,964 tonnes of carbon dioxide, the third highest.|
|Ineos combined heat and power plant||Grangemouth||Emitted 689,035 tonnes of carbon dioxide, the fourth highest.|
|Tarmac cement works||Dunbar, East Lothian||Emitted 601,447 tonnes of carbon dioxide, the fifth highest.|
|Avondale landfill site||Polmont, Falkirk||Emitted 2,660 tonnes of methane, a greenhouse gas. Also rated as “very poor” for pollution compliance.|
|Shell St Fergus gas plant||Peterhead||Emitted 28 tonnes of nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas.|
|Texas Instruments technology plant||Greenock||Emitted 2.4 tonnes of perfluorocarbons, a greenhouse gas.|
|GSK pharmaceuticals plant||Irvine||Emitted 332 kilograms of hydrofluorocarbons, a greenhouse gas.|
|Raytheon arms factory||Glenrothes||Emitted 52 kilograms of sulphur hexafluoride, a greenhouse gas.|
|CalaChem chemical works||Grangemouth||Emitted three toxic compounds - 718 kilograms of methylene chloride and 612 kilograms of toluene to water, and 1,090 kilograms of ethylbenzene to air.|
|MVV waste incinerator||Baldovie, Dundee||Emitted 71,800 micrograms of highly toxic dioxins and furans and 5.66 kilograms of the heavy metal, cadmium.|
Friends of the Earth Scotland labelled the 12 worst polluters as the “dirty dozen” and urged change. “These figures show how far we still have to go to create a low-carbon, circular economy, with many tonnes of toxic chemicals perfectly legally released into the air and water every year,” said the environmental group’s director, Dr Richard Dixon.
“Most of the debate about climate change concentrates on carbon dioxide but the industrial greenhouse gases can be many thousands of times more dangerous. Their smaller figures disguise their climate impacts and every effort to reduce emissions of these gases is very worthwhile.”
Dixon described the pollution from CalaChem in Grangemouth as unacceptable. “No one should have to live or work next to these kind of emissions,” he told The Ferret.
“We need to stop using the atmosphere as a dumping ground and instead capture these kinds of chemicals within the plant so that they can be disposed of safely.”
We need to stop using the atmosphere as a dumping ground. Dr Richard Dixon, Friends of the Earth Scotland
The increased emissions from the ageing Baldovie incinerator were “a concern”, he added. “The emissions figures from incinerators in general should challenge the current rush to build a new generation of incinerators across Scotland.”
Scottish Greens environment spokesperson, Mark Ruskell MSP, warned that Brexit could see emissions increase in the future. “These climate dinosaurs need to be made to invest to make their plants more efficient or shut them down,” he said.
“A no-deal Brexit will mean withdrawal from the European Union’s (EU) emissions trading scheme which is one of the only financial drivers that could force corporations to invest in cleaner technology. Without the scheme we may see emissions figures remain static or even rise in the future.”
Andy Gheorghiu, a campaigner with Food & Water Europe, criticised Ineos for trying to downplay its role as a major polluter. “The owner of Ineos and richest man in the UK, Jim Ratcliffe, cannot longer deny that his #Fracking4Plastics business model is a main driving force for plastic and climate pollution,” he said.
Sepa pointed out that none of the companies in the top 12 had exceeded environmental limits for the pollutants mentioned. “Generally most pollutants decreased in 2017 from 2016 values, or stayed marginally the same, and the longer term trends mostly remain downward,” said chief executive, Terry A’Hearn.
“Increases at individual sites are generally due to higher production rates and processing. Sepa sets permit conditions for every regulated site, including emissions limits, with the aim of achieving a high level of protection for the environment as a whole.”
Shell stressed the importance of its gas plant at St Fergus for meeting energy needs. “Shell is committed to reducing the emissions intensity of its assets and continuing efforts to improve the energy efficiency of its operations,” said a company spokesperson.
“In 2017 we announced our ambition to cut the net carbon footprint of the energy products we provide by around half by 2050 in step with society’s drive to align with the goals of the Paris Agreement.”
ExxonMobil insisted it was committed to minimising carbon dioxide emissions and maximising energy efficiency. “We report and pay for our emissions under the EU emissions trading scheme, which provides us with added incentive to minimise emissions,” said a company spokesperson.
“At Fife Ethylene Plant we have invested in innovations, such as our combined heat and power plant that enables us to generate power from excess steam, and to use waste heat from our gas turbine to reduce fuel consumption in our furnaces.”
Tarmac highlighted the value of cement production at its Dunbar works. “The 2017 total carbon dioxide figure was mainly due to an increase in production,” said plant manager, Oliver Curtin.
“We continue to develop our process to improve efficiency, minimise emissions and manage our carbon dioxide footprint. Examples of ways in which we are doing this are the increased use of carbon neutral or partial carbon neutral fuels.”
The company has invested heavily in reliability and environmental safety. Paul Carey, MVV
GSK emphasised that it took its environmental responsibilities very seriously. “Our manufacturing site in Irvine, which makes antibiotics for patients in Scotland and around the world, works closely with all appropriate agencies to ensure the highest environmental standards,” said a company spokesperson.
“GSK Irvine continues to operate well within the pollution prevention and control conditions set out by Sepa, and has made significant investment in new technologies to further reduce its overall impact on the environment.”
MVV pointed out that emissions from the Baldovie incinerator in 2017 were within safe limits. “Since MVV acquired the facility from Dundee City Council at the end of November 2017, the company has invested heavily in reliability and environmental safety,” said managing director, Paul Carey.
“Among these investments were two significant maintenance outages which included a complete replacement of the air pollution control system filter bags. Since November 2017 emission levels and operational availability have improved significantly as a result of these improvements made by MVV.”
A spokeswoman for Texas Instruments said the company would not be able to provide comment in time. Ineos, SSE, Avondale, Raytheon and CalaChem did not respond to requests to comment.
This story was published in tandem with the Sunday National.