Monday, June 22, 2009


we all agree if we started again it should not be located there!!

Cemex finally said they had to "take it on the chin" and say "SINCERELY SORRY " in a grovelling apology letter for dumping 3-5 tonnes pulverised coal dust from an over full silo, thickly and blackly deposited on Rugby residents up to 1.5 miles away years ago in March 2007.

BOTH THE AGENCY and CEMEX pleaded for this case NOT to go back to WARWICK CROWN COURT where they got a £400,000 fine in 2006, and asked the Judge Sander to "hit them to the maximum of £20,000" (plus costs) so they did NOT have to go to back Warwick; NOT back to Warwick; NOT back to Warwick!!!!!

THE AGENCY did admit there is great concern in Rugby about this plant and tried to convince the Judge that this was most unfortunate and that the giant 1.3 million tonne a year cement plant had always been there since the 19 Century.
NOT MENTIONED: The Financial Times article about the alarms all being "switched off and suppressed" to allow the plant to run and run without hindrance by alarms; and Cemex letter of December 2007 to EA saying they had now "removed the alarm suppression from all the equipment!" They were at pains to say this was a one off thing and that normally alarms worked. They did not mention the massive emissions increase in 2007 over and above those of 2006, nor that during all this the EA was allowing Cemex to experiment with a new bag filter and with burning tyres, which seem to have increased the emissions way above the "claimed" 18% increase in actual production.

The Environment Agency (Mr Burnham?) apologised to the Judge that the bundle had only been received this morning and said he thought they had been sent, but they must have been sent elsewhere; costs had been agreed at £13,469 and that most other things had been already been agreed before the two parties with a lot of correspondence over this weekend. Part two of the case was dropped - without explanation. Cemex pleaded guilty at the first opportunity to this serious breach of the operating Permit, by emitting between 3.1 and 3.6 tonnes pulverised coal dust, some of which blew up to 1.5 miles away over Rugby on March 10th 2007 from the pulverised coal silo that was overfilled by the workers. It was one of two - a petcoke silo next to it. There was disagreement between the two sides as to how much had crossed the boundary, they thought 5% to 22% of the total, but both agreed it was a severe breach. In mitigation Cemex had cleaned up and valeted and window cleaned.

A previous prosecution in 2007 earned a £50,000 fine at the Court of Appeal (no mention of the £400,000 awarded by the Warwick Crown Court!) for depositing health damaging clinker dust on local residents, but this coal dust (shows photographs) has no health damaging potential as far as they know. Professor Harrison of Birmingham University had done two reports and it was only nuisance dust and unpleasant, but no complaints of health effects had been received. There were some PM10 emissions but "there was no evidence that the PM10 levels were elevated and they were as expected in an area of this type", and there was "nothing to show there was any health damage.". Are there any monitors? No! So how do they conclude this?

There was no serious risk in this case, and my learned friend and I were just discussing the fine has to be substantial enough as to make them feel it and also the bad publicity this large company would get. This court can deal with it - away from Rugby and NOT NOT NOT at Crown Court!!

The Cemex lawyer Mr Green then said that he thanked the EA for giving such a fair and balanced account. They had prepared a statement of mitigation and prefer to keep this court case before this magistrates court. "Rugby Cement is a very sensitive site, as you can imagine, but built there historically in the 19th century, or maybe even before Rugby town was built. Cemex have to live together and the people living and working near the works do not wish to be troubled, not in their homes or businesses. Cemex holds a Community Forum that meets regularly to talk about these issues. This was a most unfortunate equipment failure, although we have to accept there were no functionality tests, and we cannot avoid this. A short cut was taken and lessons have been learned. The paper work was missing and there was no written record of the maintenance during shut down,
and no available paperwork, and no audit trail. It was supposed to work but the screen was blank due to a software update that was not checked. We admit it is closing the door after the horse has bolted. Mr Handcock put a full report into the EA and we have had to take it on the chin."

They comment that the EA did not issue the prosecution until late last year, but local people have shown and voiced much concern to Cemex, the EA and the RBC. They say it will not happen again. There was no attempt by Cemex to put profit before health and safety and they admit it was a serious lapse, one thing going wrong after another. Cemex employed a team of window cleaners, car cleaners and valets. There was one car sales business much affected. In the October 2005 incident health was put at risk, and they finally got a fine of £50,000 in 2007, but this March 2007 incident was only coal dust. Since the 2007 March incident there have been no issues at all between the EA and Cemex. HMMMM???

Cemex have to "co-exist with local residents and they want no further nuisances of this kind." They ask the court to retain this case within their jurisdiction and to fully deal with it and ask for leniency because of the delay in this case, and generally because they have been co-operative and generally responsible and keep the fine at the top end of the limit.

It was a breach of permit at a very large 1.4 million tonne a year cement works located close to Rugby. "If we were to start again no doubt everyone would all agree that it is not a good place to have it." Being located there gives additional responsibility to Cemex, as it has significant impacts on the community. 1.5 to 3 tonnes of coal dust is not insignificant and it was a nuisance, but no risk to health, but was unpleasant. Significant features for sentence are:
* failure of probe and failure to maintain it;
* poor records - no audit trail;
* 6 months with no equipment checks - particularly when failed earlier checks.

The failings were compounded by software failure and the alarm system was frankly inadequate, and the software had been upgraded so that the flashing screen did not work. There was no audible alarm and the workers relied on a back stop because they believed it would work and then silo would be shut down.

"One area of concern, I put it no stronger than that, is the implication that this was a series of individual mistakes that came together caused equally by individual failings but I find it rather more direct systemic failure by the company to ensure regular maintenance, regular checks and software checks. It would be easy to lay the blame on an individual in this case, but there were repeated failures. Cemex did react reasonable and speedily and complied promptly and in a timely fashion, and they did all they could do to put it right. The company regret the position they find themselves in as they have damaged the relationship with the community on which they put 'some' value.

Considering the penalty and sentencing guidelines and the previous conviction, and considering it would have gone to trial at the Crown Court if health had been at risk, I put a £30,000 fined reduced to £20,000 plus costs of £13,469, with 14 days in which to pay."

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