Faslane, Ineos and BP are among hundreds of industrial sites across Scotland condemned by the government’s green watchdog for “poor” or “very poor” performance on pollution.
The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) has found 383 plants guilty of leaks, pongs and breaches in 2015. This is three per cent more than in 2014, which was worse than 2013.
The number of fish farms rated as poor in 2015 was 58, compared to 42 the previous year. This has prompted Sepa to intervene with the industry to try and improve its behaviour.
The most polluting sector was waste, recycling and disposal, with 100 sites rated as poor or very poor. Similarly classified were 43 private sewage works, 37 public sewage works, seven crematoria, seven dry cleaners and six whisky distilleries
There were six incidents involving radioactive materials used on oil platforms and in the health service. Though most polluters are identified, the names of some 50 sites handling radioactivity or supplying water that were rated as poor have been kept secret “for reasons of national security”.
The Royal Navy’s submarine base at Faslane on the Clyde was censured as very poor because of a leak of oil from its fuel depot at Garelochhead. According to Sepa, the navy failed to admit to breaches of discharge limits.
The oil refinery run by Ineos at Grangemouth was classed as poor because of a “significant breach” of its pollution permit. This caused “a prolonged offensive odour from the site affecting a wide area” in December 2015.
Two other plants at Grangemouth were also rated as poor. BP’s oil terminal at Kinneil had “prolonged flaring and noise complaints” due to “breakdowns and process upsets”.
A major pesticide plant run by Syngenta at Grangemouth had “extensive drain defects” which Sepa said resulted in groundwater contamination.
Well-known food companies came in for similar criticism. A McVities biscuit factory in Glasgow failed to meet its water pollution limits in 2015, as it also did in 2014 and 2013.
Baxters at Fochabers in Moray was rated poor for breaching environmental rules on the use of water. The airports at Inverness and Wick breached their pollution limits, and the City of Edinburgh Council was lambasted as very poor for “a series of non-compliances and repeated breaches” at the Powderhall waste transfer station.
Friends of the Earth Scotland called on Sepa to get “much tougher” with repeat offenders. “It is deeply worrying to see Faslane nuclear base and would-be frackers Ineos on the list of top polluters,” said Mary Church, the environmental group’s head of campaigns.
“The cumulative effect of slack compliance by Grangemouth operators has very real and disturbing consequences for local communities and the environment. It is simply unacceptable in the 21st century that people still need to worry about whether the company next to their community is poisoning them.”
Mark Ruskell MSP, environment spokesperson for the Scottish Greens, argued that “strong enforcement” was needed. “It’s disappointing to see Scotland’s largely positive record on environmental compliance dragged down by businesses that blatantly break the law,” he said.
Anti-fish-farming campaigners demanded the closure of polluting salmon farms. “The salmon farming sector should be sent to the back of the class,” said Don Staniford from the Global Alliance Against Industrial Aquaculture. “The industry should not be rewarded for endemic pollution and non-compliance.”
Sepa assessed the pollution compliance of 5,470 industrial sites in 2015. In total 74 were rated as very poor, 309 as poor, 142 as “at risk” and 61 as “broadly compliant”. Some 638 were classed as “good” and 4,246 as “excellent”
Sepa chief executive, Terry A’Hearn, described the compliance rate as “impressive”, but insisted that it was “imperative” for all businesses to abide by the rules. The new assessments put the spotlight on serial offenders “and every action will be taken to ensure compliance is achieved,” he said.
Firms say problems solved
The public agencies and companies criticised defended themselves by pointing out that problems had been solved. They stressed their good environmental credentials and commitments.
The Minister of Defence admitted a “discharge breach” at the Garelochhead oil depot near Faslane. But it said that the problem was identified before any environmental damage was done, and that “the discharge system will remain offline until the cause of the breach is corrected”.
Ineos highlighted the “excellent” performance of its Grangemouth refinery in four out of five Sepa assessments. “We are disappointed that our efforts to make these improvements, as acknowledged by Sepa, have been rated as poor for one isolated issue during December 2015,” said the plant’s communication manager, David East.
BP also stressed the good performance of most of its plants in Scotland. “Over the past year at Kinneil, we have been working to improve ground flare capabilities and are currently operating the terminal with ground flare availability,” said a company spokesman.
Syngenta similarly highlighted the occasions on which Sepa had rated its Grangemouth site as good or excellent. “However in 2015 a problem was detected,” said a company spokesman. “Following the immediate isolation of the affected drains Syngenta worked with specialist contractors to repair all the drains.”
The salmon farming industry argued that it consistently achieved high levels of compliance. “The industry will continue to develop its performance with the latest research and innovations and will continue to collaborate with Sepa,” said Scott Landsburgh, chief executive of Scottish Salmon Producers’ Organisation.
Scottish Water, which operates public sewage works, said that the vast majority of its sites were classed as excellent, good or broadly complaint. “We have continued to deliver significantly improved performance across all areas in recent years,” stated chief operating officer Peter Farrer.
The Scotch Whisky Association emphasised that 80 distilleries had been classed as excellent. “Companies will continue to work closely with Sepa and others to go above and beyond compliance requirements wherever possible,” said spokesman David Williamson.
Highlands and Islands Airports Limited said it was working to resolve the issues at Inverness and Wick airports. The City of Edinburgh Council said it was addressing the concerns about Powderhall, and was confident its rating would improve in 2016.
According to Baxters, two out of three of its environmental assessments were excellent. “We have made a significant capital investment this year to put in place measures to improve our use of water resources,” said European chief executive, Cameron Davidson.
McVities did not respond to a request to comment.
Update: On 18 November 2016 the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) issued a correction changing its assessments of a few sites. It said that three whisky distilleries rated as poor because of a “system error” were now rated as good, and that the poor rating for BP’s Kinneil oil terminal was being reviewed. Sepa had alerted The Ferret to the incorrect rating for one of the distilleries before the story above was published. The additional corrections mean that the number of distilleries rated as poor in 2015 is now four, and the total number of sites rated as poor or very poor is 381.
A version of this article was published in the Sunday Herald on 13 November 2016.