Landfill site firm fined £90,000 for polluting water supply

The entrance to the Biffa waste landfill site at Houghton.
The entrance to the Biffa waste landfill site at Houghton.
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A WASTE company has been fined £90,000 after it admitted a string of pollution charges.

Biffa Waste Services Ltd, which runs Houghton landfill waste management site, pleaded guilty to five offences under the Environmental Remitting Regulations.

The charges included breaking the terms of its environmental permit and allowing a foul-smelling liquid which runs from rubbish – known as leachate – into the water supply.

The offences were said to have taken place at the controversial rubbish tip between April 2010 and May 2011.

Yesterday, the company was fined £90,000, with £26,949 costs, at Sunderland Magistrates’ Court.

A sixth charge under the regulations was dropped.

District Judge Steve Earl said the firm had to be held responsible for the mistakes they had made, although he stressed that the offences were not carried out “deliberately”.

“They are not a company which has deliberately set out to take in money and provide a second-rate service,” he said. “It was not their intention and it is not what they have done. But there will always be times when they fail.”

It was said that there was no evidence that the pollution could have affected drinking water.

Defence barrister Tim Horlock said the company apologised for the offences, although denied claims that the firm was “dismissive” or “obstructive” to official investigations.

“These offences should not have occurred,” he said. “The fact that they did occur is regrettable and, as a company, it apologises for them. It is genuinely intended and expressed with contrition.”

Speaking outside court, protesters from pressure group Residents Against Toxic Site (Rats) welcomed the outcome.

Chairman and independent councillor Colin Wakefield, said: “This is a substantial figure, although in the context of Biffa is not a huge amount.”

Biffa Waste Services is one of the biggest waste management companies in the UK and runs the Houghton landfill from a former quarry. It deals with 500,000 tonnes of waste and lies less than a mile from Stonegate pumping station, which supplies water to people living in South Sunderland, Houghton and South Durham.

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