A technical manager at St Regis Paper Co Ltd was also found guilty of falsifying records at the end of a six day trial at Exeter Crown Court.
The company operates a papermill at Higher Kings Mill, Cullompton under a Pollution Prevention and Control permit issued by the Environment Agency. The permit contained a condition that the company monitors its own effluent treatment plant and reports the results to the Agency.
In 2004, the Agency informed St Regis Paper that stricter controls on effluent quality were due to come into force in early 2005 and asked the company to provide a timetable of improvements to its effluent treatment plant to ensure it complied with the new discharge limits.
The company said it had made inquiries with a firm of effluent treatment specialists and been advised the cost of improvements to its treatment system at Higher Kings Mill could be as high as £1.2 million. The company asked for extra time to put an upgrade into effect and stated that in the meantime it planned to install an aeration system in an attempt to improve the quality of effluent discharged into the River Culm.
In early 2005 the company told the Agency the aeration trial using the oxygenation equipment had achieved ‘positive results' and no longer needed the extra time.
However, the Agency noticed that a number of the effluent quality results for a period between 2005 - 2007 submitted by St Regis Paper were ‘suspiciously close' to the permitted limits. In March 2008 an officer asked to see the company's daily environmental records sheets and noticed that one had been altered from a value (100mg/l) in excess of the limit to just below the permitted maximum of 60mg/l.
When an officer later asked to see copies of the 2007 record sheets he was told it was not possible because they ‘had been destroyed.' An effluent sample taken by the Environment Agency on March 6, 2008 had a Biochemical Oxygen Demand (BOD) level two and a half times above the permitted limit.
A jury heard that a freshwater dilution system was installed to dilute effluent with river water before it reached the sampling point. This dilution system was not brought to the attention of the Agency which was unaware of its existence.
St Regis Paper Co Ltd is part of DS Smith PLC, an international company making packaging materials and office products. The parent company has annual turnover of £2 billion with a gross profit of £109 million. Higher Kings Mill makes coloured card for office and educational markets. St Regis Paper Co Ltd is the largest recycler of waste paper in the UK.
‘The deliberate falsifying of records strikes at the cornerstone of our permitting system that is based on self monitoring by the Operator. By presenting the performance of its effluent treatment plant as being better than it was, the company saved a considerable amount of money by not having to carry out major improvement works,' said Spence Seaman for the Environment Agency.
‘This case sends out a strong message to the business community and should deter others from falsifying environmental data. Allowing companies to self monitor involves trust. If a business fails to keep its side of the bargain the Environment Agency will take action,' said Spence Seaman.
The trial ended on Monday (Oct 18) with St Regis Paper Co Ltd and the company's technical manager, Christopher Steer, being found guilty of falsifying environmental monitoring data and concealing illegal discharges from the Environment Agency in contravention of the PPC Regulations 2000.
The case against Mr Steer was adjourned for sentencing until November 29, 2010. The case against St Regis Paper Co Ltd was adjourned until April 2011 following the Environment Agency's decision to make a Proceeds of Crime Application.