Environment Agency demands odour management plans

By Elaine Watson

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Smell, Management, Olfaction

Large food manufacturers with smelly plants would have to produce detailed odour management plans even if they were far from residential areas under...

Large food manufacturers with smelly plants would have to produce detailed odour management plans even if they were far from residential areas under proposals from the Environment Agency.

Under guidance issued for consultation, plants without written exemption in England and Wales regulated by the Environment Agency under the Environmental Permitting Regime involving cooking, heating or brewing would need odour management plans. The deadline for interested parties to respond is October 13.
According to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, 369 food manufacturing plants are likely to be affected.
Some kind of odour assessment should already have been undertaken for these sites as part of their original permit applications, said Philip Branchflower, principal, air quality, at environmental consultancy SLR Consulting.
However, the new guidance is much more prescriptive if applied in full, he added. “This could range from a fairly simple box ticking exercise for remote sites to detailed assessments - and potentially additional abatement plant - for sites in residential areas irrespective of whether they currently have complaints. I see this being more likely for sites with pleasant odours which do not result in complaints from nearby residents such as bakeries and biscuit factories.”
The written odour management plan would have to be approved by the Environment Agency. If it were not considered satisfactory, the Agency would ask firms to revise it to address any identified concerns before approving a revised draft.
Plans would have to contain assessments of the risks of odour problems, appropriate risk mangement controls; suitable monitoring; actions, contingencies and responsibilities when problems arise; regular reviews of odour control measures and emission limits where appropriate.
While the guidance did not apply to smaller food manufacturing facilities, which are regulated by local authorities, it could be used by individual authorities to address ‘problem’ sites, said Branchflower.
Manufacturers found guilty of being responsible for factories emitting excessive odours or noise can be prosecuted and fined by local authorities or the Environment Agency. However, local residents can also seek damages through civil actions - sometimes in large groups.
Eversheds litigation associate Louise Howarth said: “Some of our food manufacturing clients have been subject to private nuisance claims, and we are seeing a general increase in such claims being made by groups of local residents. We’re seeing group claims with anything up to 40 people involved. And if damages are claimed in the region of £100-2,000 per claimant, per year that the nuisance was experienced, there is potentially a lot of money involved.”
If smells are an ongoing problem, claimant groups could apply for an injunction to stop the nuisance - possibly leading to a site’s closure if the application was successful, she added.
A private nuisance in this context is an activity or condition that unreasonably interferes with the use and enjoyment of neighbouring privately owned property. This might be excessive noise, unpleasant odours or vibrations.