Waste company fined £100,000 for falsification of landfill data
A leading waste company has been fined £87,500 plus costs for falsifying scientific data it sent to the UK Environment Agency.
Leigh Environmental pleaded guilty to seven charges of breaching its licence conditions after it was found to have sent false information to the Agency about leachate levels at a landfill site at Coalmoor near Horsehay, Telford and about difficult waste at a landfill site at Ling Hall near Warwick.
The investigation showed that the figures had been falsified by a single employee. In all, 252 out of 517 reports of levels of difficult wastes passed to the Agency had been falsified.
Leigh has now been prosecuted four times since 1991 for a variety of offences, including breaches of licence conditions and failure to maintain equipment.
An employee at Coalmoor initiated the investigation which revealed that between July 1996 and March 1997, Leigh falsified the levels of difficult wastes it handled and provided false figures for the levels of leachate within the site.
Barry Berlin, prosecuting for the Agency, said: “Difficult waste is a euphemism, it means dangerous waste and in the charges alleged this included waste containing cyanide, mercury, and oil.” Figures for oil, cyanide and cadmium were most frequently changed. There were also instances of figures relating to amounts of arsenic, lead, phenol and nickel levels being falsified.
The Coalmoor’s and Ling Hall’s site licences set out how much difficult waste could be mixed with domestic waste so that it could be landfilled safely. The licence also required the operator to take samples of one in every six loads of difficult waste received at the site.
These samples were analysed by an independent laboratory and the results were used by the operator to calculate the ratio of domestic to difficult waste, known as a loading rate. The licence required the results to be supplied to the Agency to ensure the site was operating in a environmentally responsible manner.
Documentation seized during the investigation showed that figures for the samples provided by the laboratory had then been falsified by an employee at a Leigh Office in Beighton, Yorkshire.
These falsified figures were sent to the Coalmoor and Ling Hall sites, which in turn sent them to the Agency. In all, 252 out of 517 reports of levels of difficult wastes passed to the Agency had been falsified. Employees were also made to enter false leachate levels, which were also sent to the Agency on regular occasions.
The investigation meant that the Agency had to obtain the original data from the laboratory in order to calculate the extent of the fraud. The correct figures indicated that loading rates had been exceeded.
Acting for Leigh, David Anderton, stated that the site was engineered to a high specification and environmental harm being caused by leachate was unlikely. He went on to say that the employee falsified and supplied the data without the company’s knowledge and he was dismissed once what had happened came to light. An Environment Agency spokesman toldedie that there was no evidence as to why the “intermediate-ranking” individual falsified the data or what he thought he could achieve. In conclusion, Anderton said that a new staff structure had been introduced at the site. He also wished the court to take into account the company’s co-operation and the fact it pleaded guilty.
After sentencing, Steve Morley, the Environment Agency’s Area Manager for the Upper Severn Area, said: “This incident was extremely serious, especially considering Leigh Environmental Limited’s poor environmental record in the West Midlands.
“If the amounts of difficult wastes had been continued to be dumped and figures falsified, there was a risk of environmental damage occurring,” said Morley. “Although the company’s Board of Directors was not implicated in the falsification of data, Leigh’s staff and their actions within the workplace are its responsibility. This case resulted partially from the company not taking the due diligence required of an organisation which handles such dangerous substances.
“As well as questions of responsibility, this case also raises issues of trust. Unfortunately, the general public sometimes view operators with suspicion. They trust us as regulators and this prosecution shows that we are worthy of that trust. I only hope that today’s fines will convince other landfill companies and their employees that they must never consider falsifying data or breaching their licences in any other way.”