Outed: the 371 plants that pollute Scotland 3

Outed: the 371 plants that pollute Scotland

More than 300 industrial sites across Scotland – including a host of well-known names – have been named and shamed by the government’s green watchdog for their “poor” or “very poor” performance on pollution.

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) has condemned 371 plants for leaks, spills, pongs, permit breaches and a series other equipment and management failures. The pollution record of companies in 2014 was significantly worse than in 2013, and Sepa missed its compliance target as a result.

Among those outed by Sepa for failing to control contamination are the oil giant BP at Grangemouth, the Dounreay nuclear plant in Caithness, the Tarmac cement works near Dunbar and Inverness airport. Repeat offenders included the McVities biscuit factory in Glasgow and the wood plant run by Norbord at Cowie near Stirling.

The largest group of failures were 113 waste and recycling facilities, including landfill sites, metal scrapyards and waste handling stations. Other major industries classed as poor were 50 public sewage works, 42 fish farms, nine food plants, seven whisky distilleries, six golf courses, four crematoria and four coal mines.

Though most of the polluters are identified, suppliers of water and those handling radioactive substances have been kept secret. “Details of their locations and ownership are undisclosed for reasons of national security,” said Sepa.

In its latest “compliance assessment” scores for 2014, Sepa has rated 59 sites as “very poor” and 312 as “poor”. This is two per cent worse than in 2013, it says, and means that it has failed to meet its target of an overall compliance rate of 91 per cent.

Firms have come under fierce attack for their poor record, with critics demanding that Sepa crack down on serial polluters. Operators have, however, defended themselves by highlighting the efforts they are making to improve their performances.

“It’s a sad state of affairs that companies in Scotland are getting worse rather than better at tackling pollution ,” said Mary Church, head of campaigns at the environmental group, Friends of the Earth Scotland.

“Sepa needs to use the full force of the law to deal with this sorry catalogue of incompetents, chancers and criminals, and rapidly improve these poor figures.”

It was high time the waste industry stopped getting away with being “rubbish”, she argued. “Perhaps most galling is the long list of food firms, distilleries, breweries, fish farms and golf courses who all trade on Scotland’s reputation for a clean environment but don’t seem to mind trashing their bit of it.”

The Green MSP, Alison Johnstone, demanded that no breaks were given to polluting companies. “The rise in the number of bad polluters shows how little regard some companies still have for their environmental responsibilities, and how urgently we need to implement tougher regulation,” she said.

“We’re not talking about harmless hiccups here. Too many operators keep breaching pollution limits year after year with full knowledge of the consequences of their actions.”

Sepa criticised BP’s Kinneil terminal at Grangemouth for “permit breaches concerning the availability of ground flare equipment and maintenance of a drain.” The plant’s rating was improved from “very poor” to “poor” on Friday after an appeal by BP.

The Dounreay nuclear plant on the north coast leaked radioactive tritium gas from waste stacks in breach of authorised limits. It also exceeded its allowance for the amount of water it could extract from radioactive waste vaults six times.

The quarry and cement works run by Tarmac on the East Lothian coast suffered “several breaches of permit conditions,” according to Sepa. These resulted in “dust fallout” and involved blockages, holes in pipes and other equipment faults.

Inverness airport was lambasted as “very poor”. It had failed “to implement an operating and monitoring regime that will allow them to ensure that the licence limits can be complied with,” said Sepa.

The McVities biscuit factory in Glasgow was rated as poor in both 2013 and 2014. “Site is currently not achieving the discharge standards required by the water use licence,” reported Sepa.

The Norbord plant in Cowie has been rated either poor or very poor for four of the last five years. “Continuous monitoring results have breached permit conditions limits,” said Sepa.

One of the whisky distilleries that have broken environmental rules is Ardmore near Huntly on Speyside, which has been rated as poor for the last three years. It is a sponsor of the prestigious ‘Nature of Scotland’ awards run by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds in Edinburgh later this month.

The Glenlivet distillery at Ballindalloch on Speyside was classed as poor in 2014 due to “multiple failures of effluent discharge standards”. Other were criticised for taking more water than permitted.

Three of the crematoria that failed on pollution breaches were run by local authorities: Daldowie and Linn in Glasgow, and Mortonhall in Edinburgh. A pet crematorium at Larkhall in South Lanarkshire was also labelled as poor.

An angling group anxious about the pollution caused by fish farms criticised Sepa for not doing enough. “The simple question for Sepa is this: where were you when these farms were performing so badly?” said the solicitor for Salmon and Trout Conservation Scotland, Guy Linley-Adams.

“Salmon and Trout Conservation Scotland believes that the Scottish Government is so in thrall to the fish-farming industry that Sepa has effectively had its teeth pulled.”

Sepa’s executive director, Calum MacDonald, admitted that he was “disappointed” at his agency’s failure to meet its compliance target, but defended Sepa’s overall performance. Of the 5,305 sites assessed in 2014, 73 per cent were rated as excellent and 14 per cent as good, he pointed out.

“Compliance is good and getting better, but we are not complacent and are taking a range of actions to improve the situation further. Non-compliance is not an option and several initiatives are currently ongoing which aim to drive up compliance across each sector where ratings have been less than satisfactory.”

He added: “These include revising our compliance assessment scheme so it can provide more timely information, a revised regulatory monitoring strategy which will provide additional compliance evidence, and new enforcement powers recently approved by the Scottish Parliament which include the capability to impose financial penalties.”

Companies defend their pollution performance

The industries under fire from the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) said they were working hard to improve their “poor” pollution records.

The Scottish Environmental Services Association (Sesa), which represents the waste industry, stressed that members aimed to exceed minimum requirements and took their environmental responsibilities very seriously.

“The fact that the vast majority of member sites are in the upper compliance bands is a direct reflection of the effort and resources that are continually expended to secure compliance,” said Sesa policy advisor Stephen Freeland.

Scottish Water pointed out that, with 30,000 miles of sewer pipes and 1,800 waste water treatment works, it had more environmental permits than any other organisation in Scotland. “In recent years, we have continued to deliver significantly improved performance across all areas,” said the public company’s chief operating officer, Peter Farrer.

“The vast majority of our sites and networks in this assessment were classed as being either excellent or good. In the last five years, we have reduced the number of pollution incidents by 66 per cent.” A planned £500 million investment over six years would bring further improvements.

The Scottish Salmon Producers’ Organisation pointed out that over 85 percent of fish farms were compliant. “Achieving and maintaining such high levels of compliance underpins the industry’s commitment to environmental sustainability,” said the organisation’s chief executive, Scott Landsburgh.

“We continue to work towards achieving compliance with all our sites and have dedicated plans in place to improve the small number of sites that aren’t quite there.”

Rosemary Gallagher, spokeswoman for the Scotch Whisky Association, said: “We are obviously disappointed if, on occasions, the highest possible standards aren’t achieved. The industry works closely with Sepa and other relevant organisations to ensure it goes above and beyond compliance requirements.”

BP said that it had suffered from “some minor non-compliances” at its Sullom Voe terminal in Shetland. “Regarding the Kinneil terminal, we are working closely with Sepa to agree a way forward,” said company spokesman, David Nicholas.

The Dounreay nuclear plant pointed out that most of its assessments by Sepa in 2014 had been “good” or “excellent”. It accepted that it had breached gas discharge limits for radioactive tritium, but stressed they were for a limited number of waste stacks, not for the site as a whole.

“To prevent re-occurrences we have undertaken a detailed review of the site’s arrangements for the sampling of authorised discharges,” said Dounreay’s assurance director, Jim Gray. Breaches of the water abstraction limits had not caused any environmental harm, he argued.

The industrial director at Tarmac, Dev Moody, was “extremely disappointed” that the Dunbar cement works had fallen short. “We have made a number of upgrades this year, which have improved our performance and we hope to return to the good environmental rating that we’ve achieved for many years,” he said.

Inverness Airport said it had only recently discovered that there were pollutants entering the waste disposal system from neighbouring areas. “We will continue to work with our neighbours and the regulator to improve this situation and work towards compliance with our licence,” said airport general manager Graeme Bell.

Norbord said that it had reported and rectified a problem with an internal combustion sensor in a boiler. “Sepa has now removed this permit condition and, as a direct result, the Cowie plant is now rated as good,” added company director Steve Roebuck.

The McVities biscuit factory in Glasgow did not respond to a request to comment.

In detail

The map below shows every site rated ‘poor’ or ‘very poor’ in 2014. The larger red markers indicate the ‘very poor’ sites.

Major plants

Food factories


Golf courses


Coal mines

  • Muir Dean, Fife
  • Garleffan Extension, East Ayrshire
  • Dalquharran Mine, South Ayrshire
  • Skares Road, East Ayrshire

source: Scottish Environment Protection Agency

Cover image: Paul Wordingham | CC

A version of this story was published in the Sunday Herald on 8 November 2015.

  1. Conrad I think what you have to consider is that moving to this model means SEPA no longer has to spend resources monitoring high performing businesses. The analytical workload associated with monitoring a large number of premises that do not and have not given cause for concern prevents more focused work being undertaken.

  2. Why is the North British Distillery allowed to frequently breach its ‘odour boundary conditions’ of its permit- please find out before we all get further poisoned by this ‘nuisance’ plant. SEPA & HSE should be able to help as they have all the details. Please go back as far as 2011.

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