Site manager sentenced for hazardous waste dump in former quarry

A waste site manager has been jailed for two years and three months after illegally disposing of 100,000 tonnes of waste. Mark Foley pleaded guilty to two counts of breaching the Environmental Protection Act 1990.

Stowey Quarry, Graeme Churchard (CC BY 2.0)
Stowey Quarry, Graeme Churchard (CC BY 2.0)
The waste, which came from across England and some of which was hazardous, was deposited at Stowey Quarry in Somerset. The site was previously a limestone quarry, located near the Chew Valley reservoir.

Bristol Crown Court described the crime as ‘one of the most serious risks of harm in the country during the past 30 years’.

The Environment Agency conducted a thorough investigation into the site’s management, after identifying unlawful activity at the quarry between January and September 2016.
Foley’s firm, M E Foley (Contractors) Ltd, operated under an environmental permit.

The corporation was fined £72,000 for failing to submit company accounts, and after pleading guilty to one breach of the Environmental Protection Act 1990.

Site manager Foley was jailed for an additional 18 weeks for giving false information to the Environment Agency.

Stowey Quarry allowed for specific materials to be brought onto the site, for the purpose of building bunds and embankments.

The site’s permit allowed for the disposal of materials identified to be ‘clean’ and ‘non-hazardous’, such as soil or construction waste. Foley’s role was to vet the waste that entered the site, and to assess its suitability.

Under Foley’s administration, much of the illegal waste was deliberately mislabelled as ‘soil substitute’ to bypass suitability standards and ensure its admission into the quarry.

Furthermore, the amount of waste being brought onto the site as reported by M E Foley (Contractors) Ltd was a fabrication, as revealed by waste transfer notes supplied by the waste producers and transporters.

In 2016, the company declared 44,950 tonnes of disposed waste, when the accurate figure was in fact double this quantity, amounting to almost 95,000 tonnes of waste.

Since the beginning of the operation in 2012 through to its termination in 2016, the total amount of waste deposited at the site was nearly 200,000 tonnes.

This exceeded the permitted limit by 65,000 tonnes, sanctioned to restore perimeter bunds and embankments using clear, inert waste.

In spite of repeated warnings, the Environment Agency served Foley’s firm with a Suspension Notice in October of the same year. The notice nullified M E Foley (Contractors) Ltd’s permit, and immediately ceased the site’s operation.

The Environmental Agency instigated an investigation to understand the possible health and environmental risks posed by the illegal waste.

Trial pit and borehole samples found prolific amounts of chopped/shredded plastics, metals foam and other man-made materials. Further to this, approximately half of the samples were found to be either carcinogenic or ecotoxic.

The investigation also surveyed landfill gases and streams located close to the site. The samples indicated a disproportionately high level of gases, in addition to the breakout of leachate in nearby fields.

Rebecca Kirk of the Environment Agency said: “It has taken three years of meticulous work for our investigation into Stowey Quarry to reach this stage. This was environmental offending of the highest order.

“I am pleased the judge acknowledged the seriousness of the offences committed and this is reflected in the sentences being handed down to those who orchestrate and take advantage of such criminal practice and show a blatant disregard to the environment and public health.”

Hearing dates for proceeds of crime proceedings have been set, and further offenders in this case will be sentenced at Bristol Crown Court in July.