A BALLYHAUNIS chicken processing company has been fined €6,000 after they were found to be in breach of their Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) licence regarding excessive levels of discharge from their waste water treatment plant.
Last week’s sitting of Castlebar District Court heard that breaches of the EPA licence issued to the Western Brand Group occurred between May 2017 and March 2018.
Under the terms of the licence, the company are obliged to notify the EPA of any breaches, which they failed to do, and they were also charged with excessive levels of e-coli and enterococci in their emissions to water.
Under the terms of the licence the facility is not allowed to exceed a flow of 570 cubic metres of water per day from the waste water treatment plant but this was done on 82 days of the year.
Western Brand Group Ltd admitted breaches to the licence but they claimed the terms of their licence were ‘stringent’ due to the location of their processing plant on the Knock Road, Ballyhaunis.
Dr Aisling Ryan, an inspector with the EPA, said the water from the waste water treatment plant flows into a marsh and as a result the discharge levels of e-coli and enterococci has to be zero. The nearest water flow to the plant is the Dalgan River which is 4km away.
She explained that they discovered the breaches as a result of routine inspections of the facility and there were high levels of ammonia, nitrates and phosphates discovered. She said the EPA take any breaches very seriously and the company are obliged to inform them of any.
There was no evidence of any fish kills or environmental damage as a result of the breaches but the company was fined in 2012 for a similar breach.
The company was founded in Ballyhaunis in 1958 and the plant currently employs 550 people. The current licence was issued to the company in 2011 when the average number of chickens processed was 270,000 but that number has increased to 700,000.
Colm Drugan, the Group Environmental Manager with Western Brand, described the licence as ‘stringent’ because the EPA were asking them to produce drinking quality water from their waste water treatment plant. He said the company had applied to amend the licence and were awaiting approval from the EPA.
Mr Drugan said they always try not to exceed the allowed levels but stressed it was a challenge for the company to comply with their licence at all times. He said the average daily water flow was 510 cubic metres but spikes in production may bring the level over the permitted amount.
He explained that the facility has expanded to meet the demands of the market but felt the business will be affected if they had to maintain the daily water flow at 570 cubic metres.
In order to amend the licence the company has agreed to invest in a pipeline to the Dalgan River where the treated water could be discharged. He said the pipeline would take three years to complete but claimed the EPA were giving them 18 months after the issue of a new licence. He said the EPA’s timeline was not workable.
When asked why he had not notified the EPA on the excesses in the discharge levels, he admitted the burden fell on him to report them but felt it would be burdensome in terms of work load. However, he added that they have increased the number of staff who monitor the discharge levels. Mr Peter Nolan, counsel for Western Brand Group, said the company took their environmental responsibilities seriously and the presence of their Managing Director in court reflected this.
Mr Nolan said the business they were in was extremely competitive and the new licence was critical to the longevity of the plant. He added the company wanted to deal with the EPA and get on with their work and give employment to Ballyhaunis.
Judge Fiona Lydon accepted that the company had co-operated with the EPA and they had employed extra staff to deal with any problems. However, she also criticised their attitude in not notifying the EPA of breaches, saying that because something was arduous or a nuisance was not an excuse not to comply with legislation.
She fined Western Brand Group €2,000 for each of the three charges against them and ordered them to pay €8,000 in costs.