Cathedral City factory ‘ruining lives’ with its pollution and odour

Residents talk about life near Davidstow Creamery

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Residents living near the Cathedral City cheese factory have had their lives blighted by its pollution and smell.

The Environmental Agency (EA) says it records multiple permit breaches at the plant and says “unacceptable impacts” are being made on both local people and the environment. Davidstow Creamery, responsible for popular products such as Cathedral City, Frylight, and Clover, was ordered to reduce its odour and noise pollution five years ago but little has been done the EA says.

The residents had complained about horrible smells and whirring noises which kept them awake at night and made their families sick.

When the factory in Cornwall was successfully prosecuted last year, it admitted charges of breaching its permits by polluting, which resulted in the deaths of fish, and that “blighted the lives of people living nearby,”  according to judge Simon Carr in his sentencing remarks at Truro Crown Court.

Fast forward to today, and the largest cheese factory in the UK — and the largest mature cheddar factory in the world — then owned by Dairy Crest Ltd and now owned by Canadian company Saputo has killed thousands of fish in the River Inny, discharged waste into the river repeatedly, failed to notify the Environment Agency (EA) about breaches, and caused physical and emotional suffering to residents.

The company pleaded guilty to more than 20 charges of polluting the river and air and breaching its permits relating to how much it was allowed to release into the environment before being fined more than £1.5 million in June 2022 for doing so, reports Cornwall Live.

Natalie, 40, and Mark, 55, live in nearby Treworra.

They purchased the property last summer, after the company was charged and fined at Truro Crown Court after pleading guilty to 21 charges relating to pollution and odour incidents and permit breaches in 2016–2022.

Eleven of the charges had to do with the company breaching environmental permits with waste discharges into the River Inny.

Further offences relate to the contravention of permits on odour and another for the company waiting more than a month to inform the EA about breaches in discharge.

Thousands of trout died as a result of events at Davidstow Creamery.

Following checks made through their solicitors regarding issues with the site, they proceeded with the purchase.

The couple claim that, despite being cautious, repeated stinky smells caused by gases coming from the site and noise issues are doing nothing short of ruining their lives.

Natalie wakes every morning, if she can sleep through the “deafening” sound, and checks the wind direction.

She claims certain wind directions will reduce her to tears and mean staying inside the whole day.

The situation has become so unbearable that at times she claims she has suffered the darkest of thoughts.

The family fears its savings are wrapped up in a property that Natalie says she “would not sell to her worst enemy” for them to then suffer the same fate.

When they purchased the home, to the best of anybody’s knowledge, the historical issues at Davidstow Creamery were in the process of being resolved.

Given the substantiality of the £1.5 million fine (the largest fine ever awarded for a successful EA prosecution in the South West), the couple had no reason to believe problems would be ongoing.

Now Natalie says she realises that sort of money is “small change” for a multinational company like Saputo, and while she claims her life remains upended by it all, she feels its bosses do not care.

For context, the site unveiled a £75 million expansion in 2019 to double its cheese production.

In 2021 Dairy Crest Ltd made a profit of £119.7 million and in 2022 it made a £64.2 million profit according to its accounts on Companies House.

The Dairy Crest Ltd part of the company alone made £512.4 million in revenue in 2022.

At £1.4 million a day, that means it made back in sales what it was fined following the June 2022 court case in just over 24 hours.

Natalie and Mark share their home, set not far behind the water treatment plant, with their 11-year-old daughter Lydia, and they claim they suffer headaches and nosebleeds due to the stench in the air from emissions from the factory, which were confirmed as part of the charges the company admitted to at court and for which it was fined heavily.

In the summer, they claim they have to keep their windows shut, and Lydia playing outside is unheard of.

They moved to the property with the hopes of taking over its glamping site, but that dream was quickly squashed, with a disheartened Natalie saying she could not put guests through the noise and the rotten egg-like smell that plagues their lives most days.

They have both returned to their previous careers as a result because, financially, they cannot afford not to.

“We are just at utterly a place of despair,” she said.

“I’m angry and anxious all the time. When I open the door I know I’m going to be confronted with the smell and the noise.”

They are not the only residents to report feeling unwell in the area.

This comes as the EA has confirmed the gas that is causing the smell can cause such symptoms as headaches and nosebleeds when emitted at high levels.

In August 2022, just two months after the court case, the regulating body received a number of calls regarding residents feeling unwell and smelling a “rotting horrible smell” that had been building in recent days.

Following a site visit, an EA officer said “the odour was so strong” even they could not stay in the area.

Asked about whether this posed any threat to staff on site, or surrounding residents, the EA said it has on rare occasions been forced to withdraw from specific parts of the site.

That’s due to body-worn detectors, which detect low oxygen or a build-up of gaseous emissions, sounding off.

It said that there is, however, no evidence to suggest that levels of gas in or outside the site would be directly harmful to human health outside of physical symptoms like nausea, headaches or dizziness.

Saputo, owner of the Davidstow Creamery, has also defended itself saying these readings are recorded directly above tanks at the water processing facility, but not outside of the boundary.

It says employees working at the facility are required to wear H2S (the gas) monitors with an alarm alike that of the EO alarm.

These sound when readings exceed the workplace exposure level.

While this level is 3ppm (parts per million), a Saputo spokesperson said that the human nose can detect it at far lower levels – explaining why residents notice it.

Jim Hunt, 69, and Kasia Turajczyk, 66, moved to nearby Tremail, in November 2016.

The following summer they noticed “a horrible smell” when using their patio space.

“I remember thinking in no way am I going to sit out here with this smell, soaking up the rays,” said Jim.

At first he thought it was a sewage issue but before long, neighbours explained the scent had been coming from the cheese factory “for years”.

“Most of the time in Tremail we don’t get it too bad,” he said.

“We have the smell but as you get closer to the water-waste treatment plant it gets worse.

“It’s very hard to describe the smell and it does change but it’s a mixture between rotten eggs, dead sheep and a blocked sewage pipe.

“At it’s worst people will tell you they can’t go out [of their houses].”

They are more sheltered from the noise issues but say they are concerned for the wider environmental impact.

Describing the personal effect it has had on them, Mr Hunt said: “It p**sses me off. It’s been going on for years and years. Literally since we’ve been here and before that.”

The residents don’t want Davidstow Creamery, which employs around 200 workers and buys 1.3 million litres of milk from local farmers every day, closed down – they simply want it to comply with its environmental permit.

“All we’re asking for is compliance,” Natalie continues, “but it’s like looking down the barrel of a gun.”

A spokesperson for the EA said: “We have received and responded to a number of odour and noise complaints in 2022 and so far in 2023 from Davidstow Creamery waste-water processing facility, operated by Dairy Crest Limited (owned by Saputo Dairy UK).

“We have recorded multiple permit breaches for a variety of issues during that period including odour, noise and water quality and agree there have been unacceptable impacts from the site on local people and the environment.

“We are requiring the operator to take steps to prevent or minimise these impacts now and in future.

“In 2022, we prosecuted the operator for offending between 2016 and 2020, including for causing odour pollution, and we have ongoing investigations into offending from 2021 and 2022.

“We will continue to monitor off-site impacts from this facility against their environmental permit, assess and where necessary respond to reports of pollution, use our regulatory powers to ensure the operator delivers the planned improvements as quickly as possible, and keep the affected communities updated on these matters.

“The site has largely been compliant with water quality permit conditions over the previous seven months.

“We are, however, reviewing those conditions to ensure they adequately protect the River Inny.”

A Saputo spokesperson said: “We have undertaken a substantial programme of capital investment and operational improvements over the last four years at the Davidstow site.

“We are aware of a few neighbours still experiencing issues around odour and noise and further initiatives are underway to address this, which they are aware of.

“We work closely with the Environment Agency (EA) – sharing plans and regularly reporting progress. Furthermore, we hold regular three-way meetings with the EA and local residents to update them on progress and discuss any complaints.

“Davidstow residents are represented by the parish council, with whom we have a productive working relationship.

“We recommend speaking to them as they are best placed to speak on behalf of the broader community.”

It added that environmental compliance “remains a top priority”, adding: “We remain firmly committed to our environmental agenda and ongoing investment plans.”

Residents said that it was frustrating that communications between them and Saputo are conducted only through the parish council, which Saputo confirmed is representing them.

Davidstow Parish Council did however not respond to Cornwall Live’s request for comment on the ongoing issues facing residents.

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