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Waste company warning after newspaper exposé

A waste company has received an official Environment Agency warning over a spate of foul smells from a landfill site exposed by a local newspaper campaign more than five years ago.

Veolia Environmental Services, formerly Cleanaway, received the caution following the five-year investigation launched in the wake of the ‘Stop the Smells’ campaign.

Jon Austin, investigations reporter at Basildon daily the Echo, spearheaded the campaign with a trainee at the Yellow Advertiser, a neighbouring weekly owned by Tindle.

The campaign, which was shortlisted for a number of awards in 2003 and 2004, was launched after the paper received several complaints from residents about unidentified gas-like smells in the area which were leading to headaches and stinging eyes.

Within a week of the campaign’s launch, the Environment Agency admitted it believed the smells were coming from a rotten lagoon at a landfill site in Pitsea, Basildon.

Following public pressure it ordered Cleanaway to carry out a £2m successful clean up to eliminate the problem and commissioned air tests to check for health risks.

After learning the subsequent agency investigation had finished, Jon obtained a copy of the report sent to Veolia, which confirmed the escaping gasses posed a potential health risk and affected people’s quality of life. It lead to a front page story at the Echo this month.

The warning remains on file and does not mean the company will not face prosecution if more evidence emerges.

Jon said: “The warning seems like the company got off lightly when you consider the Environment Agency often throws the book at small businesses for a one-off burning of the wrong type of waste and this spate of smells went on for months and affected so many people.

“But at least it is now on public record the firm committed an offence and it did take action following the campaign.

“The story also shows the benefit of chasing follow ups. I kept checking with the Environment Agency if it had completed its investigation, and although it took five years, we got another story.”