Crushed hazardous waste drums could have caught fire

Two businesses have been fined a total of almost £30,000 after only 'sheer luck' prevented a fire when lethal waste left in storage drums was crushed without being cleaned.

Teesside Magistrates Court heard Waste disposal firm UK Resource Management Limited (UKRM) took 160 metal drums, with plastic liners, from chemical manufacturer William Blythe Limited, (Wm Blythe), from its site in Accrington, Lancashire where it manufactures metal salts based on arsenic, copper, tin and zinc.

UKRM’s drum washing machinery had broken down and its usual operator was on holiday but the company ignored the risks of fire and crushed the drums without cleaning them.

Trevor Cooper, prosecuting for the Environment Agency, said it was only by ‘sheer luck’ the drums did not ignite when crushed and UKRM had not checked the state of the drums, which were covered in contaminants included chromium trioxide (chromic acid), which is often used in wood preservation and metal finishing and plating.

On 11 October 2006, the crushed drums were among a load of drums taken to a scrap metal dealer, Ward Bros (Steel) Limited, in Darlington, who rejected the waste and alerted the Environment Agency.

District judge, Martin Walker, said: “It is a vital part of the Environment Agency’s work to protect the environment and in this case there was the potential for people to be injured because the chemicals were potentially very serious.

“UKRM have greater culpability because they had two distinct breaches of the regulations and it was not an isolated incident.”

UKRM had previously been convicted of five environmental offences – at Wheldrake, near York, in October 2004; at Teesside in December 2006; at Hartlepool in November 2006; at Middlesbrough in December 2006; and at Leeds in February 2007. UKRM pleaded guilty to the Leeds offence in April this year and was fined £25,000 by Leeds magistrates.

In mitigation, the court heard UKRM had since changed its procedures to ensure all drums are cleaned before crushing and both companies had fully co-operated with the Environment Agency investigation.

At court last Wednesday (22 July), UKRM, of Middlesbrough, was fined a total of £15,000 and ordered to pay £4,750 costs after admitting it had acted with gross negligence.

Wm Blythe, of Harlow, Essex, was fined £5,000 and ordered to pay £4,750 prosecution costs. The company had pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing to one charge and asked for a second offence to be taken into consideration.

Both companies were given credit for their early guilty pleas.

Luke Walsh

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