Wood recycling company fined for waste fire

Wood recycling company R Plevin & Sons Ltd (PLEVINS) has been fined £200,000 after a major fire at its Barnsley wood recycling centre in 2014 led to the pollution of a local river and the temporary closure of a sewage treatment works, with smoke affecting homes 20 miles away in Sheffield.

Waste wood fire at PLEVINS' Barnsley recycling centre

Following a fire in April 2014, the Environment Agency (EA) raised concerns about the company’s fire prevention and incident response plans, demanding that changes and improvements be made to bring the site into compliance with the conditions of its environmental permit.

Despite the EA’s warning, a second fire broke out in June 2014 due to the self-combustion of waste wood stockpiles. With the fire lasting 13 days and costing over £500,000, South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service described the incident as its largest resource commitment for over 11 years.

The water used to tackle the blaze drained into two off-site lagoons which were managed by the company. Although the EA instructed PLEVINS to take action to prevent the water from entering Sledbrook Dyke and the River Don, water contaminated with toxic pollutants was allowed to escape into the gardens of nearby residents and the dyke. This resulted in the pollution of the watercourse, forcing the nearby Yorkshire Water sewage treatment works to close.

The company pleaded guilty at Sheffield Crown Court to two Environmental Permitting regulation offences: operating in breach of their permit, and causing a polluting discharge to occur which was not in accordance with a permit.

Judge Robert Moore concluded that the risks of self-combustion in stacks of waste wood were well known and that the company had been guilty of a deliberate failure to put in place systems to avoid the fire.

In addition to the £200,000 fine, PLEVINS was ordered to pay £30,000 in prosecution costs.

A spokesperson for the EA commented: “PLEVINS’ systems for addressing the known risk of a self-heating combustion on site were wholly inadequate. It received an unmistakable warning with the fire that occurred in April 2014. The defendant did not act on that warning before the second fire sufficiently or at all. Its response to the second fire was to look to the Fire Service and the Environment Agency for direction, initiative and resources.

“After the second fire it failed to address the polluted waters sitting in its lagoons and it failed to reduce its stack sizes as required.

“Failure to comply with the legal requirements of an environmental permit is a serious offence that can damage the environment, undermine those who adhere to the rules and cause misery for local communities and we welcome the sentence handed down today. It demonstrates that blatant disregard for environmental regulations will not be tolerated.”

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