Biffa fined for asbestos mishandling
A leading waste management business was today handed down over £55,000 in fines and costs for the poor handling of asbestos.
Derby Magistrates’ Court heard that by not managing asbestos in the correct manner Biffa exposed its staff and the environment to risk of harm.
Biffa Waste Services Limited which operates a landfill at Elvaston Quarry, Bellington Hill, near Shardlow, Derbyshire, was sentenced today in relation to two charges of breaching its waste management licence, specifically involved with the handling of asbestos.
Today (14 October), the company was fined £40,000 and ordered to pay £15,400 in costs, along with a £15 victim surcharge. The charges were brought by the Environment Agency under Section 33 (6) of the Environmental Protection Act 1990.
For the Environment Agency, Counsel Barry Berlin told the court that Biffa holds a Waste Management Licence for the Elvaston Quarry site. As the site operator Biffa was responsible for controlling the deposit and safe handling of the waste it received. Around May 2007, Biffa was accepting brown and white asbestos and had to therefore adhere to its operational working plan and its Waste Management Licence.
The Waste Management Licence required that asbestos be carefully deposited in pre-constructed lanes to contain it and make it easier to cover up and then contain it immediately to minimise the risk of any potentially harmful asbestos fibres escaping in to the air.
On 17 May 2007, Environment Officers visited Elvaston Quarry and saw both bagged and sheet asbestos left exposed on site. The asbestos had not been tipped in pre-constructed lanes, it had not been covered up and no Biffa employees were in the tipping area to undertake or oversee activities.
A Notice was served on Biffa requiring it to immediately comply with its Waste Management Licence and cover up any asbestos which could potentially cause harm and ensure waste asbestos was correctly handled in future.
Environment Officers returned to the site on 21 May 2007 and found asbestos was still not being handled or covered correctly. Biffa staff were still apparently unsure of the correct procedures to follow.
Speaking after the case Mark Cunningham, an Environment Agency Team Leader involved in the investigation, said: “This persistent mishandling of asbestos plainly created a serious risk of asbestos fibres escaping and seems to have arisen from a combination of poorly trained staff and inadequate management on the part of Biffa. I hope today’s result sends a clear message that we won’t hesitate to take strong action against anyone who shows disregard for public health or the environment. I would, however, like to reassure local residents and the public in general that we found no evidence that asbestos escaped from site.”
He went on to say: “The site has since closed to waste disposal but we are still involved in checking that Biffa comply with their long term responsibility for the aftercare of the site and control landfill gas and monitor water quality.”
In mitigation, solicitor Stephen Toghill said the company bitterly regretted the incident, staff had been retrained and there were no further incidents before the site was closed in October 2007.
In sentencing, the District Judge stated that this was a case of persistent mishandling of asbestos. She also said these were serious breaches of the Act by a company without an unblemished record.
Biffa Waste Services Ltd has been fined £40,000 and ordered to pay £15,400 costs after being found guilty at Derby Magistrates’ Court under s.33(8) of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 for breaching its waste management licence, specifically involved with the handling of asbestos.