Pork firm effluent at ‘fish-kill’ amount, court hears

A pork factory was discharging effluent at “fish-kill level” into a stream that leads into a special area of conservation on the Wild Atlantic Way.

Clonakilty District Court heard that Stauntons Foods of Spital Cross, Timoleague, in West Cork, was “behind the curve” regarding its environmental responsibilities when incidents were noted on three separate dates last year.

The company, which is owned by the local Barryroe Co-Op, pleaded guilty to four charges relating to three dates, with a fifth charge withdrawn.

Solicitor Alan Doyle, prosecuting for the Environmental Protection Agency, said the defendants operated its factory 1km from Timoleague.

He said a “considerable amount” of effluent had been dealt with by the factory’s waste water treatment plant which in turn discharged into a stream that then runs into a branch of the Argideen River and out into part of Courtmacsherry Bay.

The area is a special area of conservation under both the Habitats Directive and the Birds Directive.

Judge Mary Dorgan heard that water quality in the bay was poor, with factors including municipal discharge, agri run-off and industry, such as Stauntons.

Pamela McDonnell of the EPA told the court a sample taken for analysis following a routine visit on February 28 last year showed the effluent entering the stream “significantly exceeded” the required limits.

Ammonia levels were 300 times the limit as per the licence, suspended solids were seven times the limit, and nitrogen levels six times the limit.

Ms McDonnell said these levels were toxic to fish and added: “It would be at fish- kill level.”

Another sample, taken during an EPA visit on March 3 last year, showed the levels had risen again — ammonia was 360 times the limit and suspended solids were 22 times the limit.

The court heard that from April last year the company stopped using its waste waster treatment facility and instead arranged to tanker the effluent to an Irish Water facility in Kinsale. JC Daniel Cronin, for Stauntons, said this cost around €100,000 a month.

The court also heard that the March 3 visit also uncovered an issue with rainwater run-off. Ms McDonnell said the water was not exiting at the designated point.

On August 10 last the EPA again visited the facility and Ms McDonnell said inspectors noticed “bloodish colour discharge” near a storm water discharge point. Analysis of a water sample showed a high detergent content at a rate of 687mg per litre, when the licence specified clear rainwater.

Mr Cronin said the factory was a key employer, took its responsibilities seriously and accepted they “fell short at the beginning of 2017”.

He said since then waste water has been tankered to Kinsale and a new on-site waste water treatment plant is close to operation.

Environmental consultant Michael Sweeney, retained by the company, said it could be fully operational within the next two months.

Judge Dorgan fined the company €3,250 on each of the four charges and directed it pay agreed costs to the EPA of more than €10,000.

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