Castlebar based company describe case as ‘unfortunate incident’
BAXTER Heathcare were fined €6,000 and ordered to pay costs in excess of €13,000 after they were accused of discharging cleaning solution which could have caused pollution to the waterways around Castlebar.
The Pharmaceutical giant were prosecuted by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) after discharging a 12,000 litre tank of cleaning solution on two separate dates in 2011 into the Castlebar Water Water Treatment Plant which did not comply with the requirements of its licence with the agency.
Baxter, which is one of Mayo’s largest employers, were also criticised by the EPA for their ‘poor’ compliance record regarding the control of waste from their site at Moneen, Castlebar. Castlebar District Court heard they were issued with 21 non-compliance notices in the last two years and there were 49 incidents reported at the plant compared to a maximum of four in other plants in the region.
The incidents before the court occurred as a result of Baxter having to shut down part of its production facilities in early 2011 following the contamination of a number of kidney dialysis products. As a result a new line was put in place which had to be cleaned and tested before they could be given permission to go back into production.
During this cleaning process they used cleaning solutions which the EPA claimed in one case had doubled in amount and in another case they used 83 times the quantity which they normally use.
Baxter pleaded guilty to:
- Causing or permitting alterations to the activity, which did, or were likely to, result in a material change or increase in the nature or quantity of emissions, the raw materials used and wastes generated (without prior notice to or the agreement of the Agency);
- Failing to notify the Agency as soon as practicable after the occurrence of an emission to sewer on two separate dates (August 26 2011 and September 13 2011) which did not comply with the requirements of its licence;
- Failing to ensure that all waste was stored in designated areas, protected as may be appropriate, against spillage and leachate run-off and did fail to clearly label and appropriately segregate all waste.
Michelle McKim, an EPA Inspector told the court that as a result of the cleaning of the pipes, two cleaning agents - Oxonia and Solution A - were used in increased volumes. She said that this was done without the agreement of the EPA as an increase in the solution can have a potential impact on the environment.
When the cleaning agent is discharged, she explained, it goes down a sewer which goes to the main municipal Castlebar Treatment Plant.
The issue came to a head on Wednesday, September 13, 2011 when Veolia, the operators of the Baxter pre-treatment annexe plant reported an issue with the plant and that the discharge of the cleaning interfered with the working of the plant. They notified Mayo County and Baxter of the incident and they also notified the EPA.
Ms McKim explained that Baxter are supposed to notify the agency of any incident as ‘soon as practicable’ but they were not notified.
While investigating the matter, Ms McKim said they became aware that there was another discharge of a 12,000 litre tank down the sewer on August 26, 2011. Ms McKim that these discharges interfered with the operation of both the annexe plant and the main plant and this had the potential of causing a ‘serious environmental issue’. Fortunately she said there was just a short term interference and there was no evidence of an environmental impact.
As a result, Baxter ceased discharging the cleaning solution into the sewer and held it in tanks on site. Ms McKim said this was inappropriately stored as it was not in a designated area to prevent a spill-off if it leaked. She said the site was again inspected in May and earlier this month and it was still not stored in a designated area.
When questioned by Judge Denis McLoughlin as to why these incidents occurred, Ms McKim said that it was done in an effort to get the line ‘up and running’ and they had failed to communicate properly with the agency.
When questioned by Deborah Spence, solicitor for Baxter, Ms McKim agreed that no breach to the licence had been exceeded but stressed that Baxter should have told the EPA of the changes in emissions. Ms Spence also disagreed that the main treatment plant was interfered with but Ms McKim said it was reported in Veolia’s report.
Ms Spence said that Baxter were not aware of the problem on September 13 and she claims they were notified by Veolia on September 16 and they notified the EPA. She said the current storage tanks cost €10,000 per week and claimed the necessary work would be completed in the next week.
Ms Spence said the company were never before the court on environmental matters before and had been in the county for decades. She said they had also agreed to pay for the upgrade of the annex plant.
She added that Baxter accepted what occurred but felt it was managed with the assistance of the company and no pollution was caused. She described the incident as unfortunate and acknowledged there should be better communication lines between them and the EPA.
Ms Rachel Minch, solicitor for the EPA said the maximum fine was €4,000 per charge and that costs of €13,376.20 had been agreed.
Judge McLoughlin said he noted the explanation given by the company but accepted the evidence of the EPA as regard to the potential consequences of the locality.
He acknowledged the company’s involvement in the community and fined them a total of €6,000.