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Odour and dust problems can be catastrophic – waste managers watch out!

yNR2bII-zgKKRX1VotjFBLK9B5dDKheBRUEpK1Fg4WoOdour and dust comes from waste management and landfill sites that are poorly maintained. Lack of planning and longer turnover times of waste reduction results in unwanted odours and dust escalating and traveling further into the atmosphere; much to the annoyance of staff, local businesses and residents.

Odour and dust produced from business activity is taken very seriously and is considered a nuisance. The Government and Environment Agency are taking a dim view of sites that are producing such odour and dust and are clamping down on those responsible and issuing penalties and in extreme cases, closing businesses down.

Site operators that aren’t responsible usually take in more waste than they can manage to increase profits. This results in untreated waste, which causes the odours and dust to become a problem.

Odours can become such a nuisance that the ongoing stench which permeates in the air can make it unbearable to neighbours. A recent case of overfill in East Yorkshire resulted in the owners of the landfill site being ordered to pay a £72,000 penalty after residents complained that the smell became unbearable.

‘Smelly fines’ are becoming more common. Residents and local businesses have the power to fight against the odours and can also assist the EA in prosecuting irresponsible waste recyclers when odours become an issue.

Large landfill sites that ignore the recommended waste turnaround time, risk producing leachate; a strong liquid typically emerging from landfill waste. From leachate emanates a strong acidic odour due to the chemicals forged in the decaying processes, such as hydrogen, nitrogen and sulphurs. The smell can be highly pervasive and offensive, causing stress and nuisance to those exposed to it.

When assessing the impact and the nuisance of odours, an environmental officer will look at the different factors including:

  • The type of smell (odours which are recognisable can cause a greater nuisance, such as rotting meat or plastic)
  • How potent the smell is
  • Where it originates from
  • How long the smell has been causing a nuisance
  • Whether the smell would have been expected or not in that area
  • What steps are needed to put a stop to the smell

There are three levels of odour according to the Environment Agency:

  1. Unreasonable – serious pollution where action will be taken
  2. Odours – likely pollution where appropriate measures must be taken
  3. No odour – no pollution so action isn’t necessary

The Environment Agency states that the conditions of a permit must include an Odour Management Plan (OMP), with the odour boundary condition that “Emissions from the activities shall be free from odour at levels likely to cause pollution outside the site, as perceived by an authorised officer of the Environment Agency, unless the operator has used appropriate measures, including, but not limited to, those specified in any approved odour management plan, to prevent or where it is not practicable, to minimise, the odour.”

Having a stringent OMP in place and adhering to it can prevent these odour problems from occurring in the first place. Although it may seem time consuming (and it is), it will ultimately save your business from damage.

Damage to the business from odours and dust

Damage to the business comes in many forms. Untreated problems can escalate and become a bigger problem as time goes by, making it more challenging to deal with further down the line:

  1. Damage to reputation

Odour and dust problems can cause unhappy staff, customers and neighbours, especially if escalating over long periods of time. The knock-on effect can also spill over to neighbouring businesses and upset their staff and customers also. If left untreated, people may feel that as a business owner, you haven’t been proactive in addressing the issue and results in damage to your reputation as a whole.

  1. Damage to equipment

Dust deposits can build up, causing damage to equipment and machinery. The longer they build up, the more serious it can be. Thick dust particles can travel through the air and create a ‘blanket’ of dust, which can get stuck in machinery, cogs and can even make some equipment unfixable. Dust accumulation can ruin electrical equipment and cause overheating, moisture build-up and reduced contact in connectors.

  1. Prosecution

The laws in regards to poorly managed sites are ever-changing, with more amendments being added in April 2015. The new ‘enforcement undertakings’ now provide alternatives to previous prosecutions including formal cautions and warnings. ‘Enforcement undertakings’ will come into effect if these warnings are deemed not to be effective enough. However, businesses that don’t focus on the procedures in place and let problems escalate run the risk of being fined, or even in some extreme cases receive a custodial sentence.

  1. Negative PR

When a waste management site is prosecuted, it is in the ‘public interest’ for local newspapers to cover the story. Negative news articles can be highly damaging to the business and makes the wider community and neighbourhood aware of the incident.

  1. Loss of trade

When a waste management site is under investigation or has been prosecuted, business clients are likely to go to their competitors. They may not want to be associated with that particular company as it may have an impact on their business relationships and networks.

  1. Prone to further inspections

Businesses that have been investigated or prosecuted in the past are likely to be ‘under the radar’ with the authorities for years to come. They could be perceived as a high risk and will have to work hard to regain any sort of trust.

  1. Insurance problems

Businesses that have had issues with prosecution face higher insurance premiums. Insurers won’t only do a credit check on the company, but will look to see if there have been any incidents or negative media coverage when assessing whether the business is high or low risk to insure.

  1. Financial burden

Businesses that have a problem with odour and dust face the risk of financial burden. Apart from the fine itself and court costs, other costs include loss of business, costs involved with fixing or replacing equipment and compensation to any person or persons affected.

Health Risks

It’s not just damage to the business that waste management owners need to consider, there can be serious health implications and risks to anyone in the business or vicinity. The potential health risks from dust will vary, depending on the type of waste management facility, the proximity to the individual or group involved and the length of time of exposure.

The most common health risks are from:

  1. Wood dust

Probably one of the most lethal types of dust to inhale is from wood. According to the Health and Safety Executive, wood dust can be potentially life-threatening. Dust particles can cause asthma (dust workers of any kind are four times more likely to get asthma), hardwood can cause cancers of the nose, and settled dust can cause lung cancer.

  1. Plastic chemicals

In plastic recycling plants, vinyl chloride, used to make PVC (poly vinyl chloride) is released into the air. Exposure to vinyl chloride can be mild to severe. Short term exposure can cause headaches and drowsiness, whereas long-term exposure can cause chronic illnesses such as liver damage, including a rare form of liver cancer.

  1. Inhalation of pollutants

Whilst it may be considered that wood and plastic are probably the most lethal forms of inhalation, household and mixed waste exposure can also be lethal. Waste such as faeces from nappies, rotten food, dead animal carcasses, hazardous liquids, such as paints and cleaning products all emit odours over time. Waste releases micro-organisms which pose a greater threat the longer they are untreated, causing biological hazards. These types of elements become airborne the longer they are left as they cling to dust particles. Germs can arise from waste and breed very quickly. In a very short space of time, a few germs can become billions. They can enter the body in a number of ways, but inhalation is very common.

Untreated waste leads to pollution, when pollutants are released into the air, the health effects are potentially life-threatening and can include respiratory damage, lung damage, cancers and even premature death. Pollutants can be caused from carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide, lead, ozone and particles.

  1. Electric shocks

It’s not just airborne illnesses and diseases that are a risk. Dust can cause damage to electrical equipment and increases the risk of electric shocks. Shocks can be mild or severe and can result in a huge health and safety problem to those affected.

What can you do?

As a responsible business owner, using a few well thought out strategies will enable you to keep on top of your odour and dust and operate more efficiently.

  1. Have an odour and dust suppression system in place

Although suppression systems may seem expensive, the preventative benefits far outweigh the costs in the long-run should an odour or dust problem occur. Systems include foam dust suppression, fogging systems and spraying systems.

  1. Risk assessments

Ongoing risk assessments help you to perceive the level of risk in your business and be preventative, rather than sorry in the long run. Increasing your standards will be more effective and helps you to implement stricter safety measures overall, reducing the chances of any unwanted incidents.

  1. Training and awareness

Ongoing training and refresher courses ensures that your staff are fully aware of what needs to be done to minimise the risks associated with odour and dust. When staff are skilled up in these areas, it assists in your overall prevention plan and your OMP. Sharon Simpson from WAMITAB discusses this in more detail on page 36.

  1. Engaging with relevant agencies

Contrary to popular belief, not all agencies are there to make your life a misery. Some agencies are there to help you become more effective and responsible. The Health and Safety Executive, the Fire Service and the local authorities are there to guide you and give you the most up-to-date advice.

  1. Keep up-to-date with changes in the law

Unfortunately, for people within the waste industry and the sectors within it, the law and legislations are constantly vulnerable to change. Keeping abreast of changes will help you to stay within the law.


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