SEPA gets involved over carbon dust cloud at Corpach port

The Alvance Aluminium smelter at Fort William , pictured, produces carbon anodes as a by-product of the smelting process. Photograph: Iain Ferguson, alba.photos Alvance-smelter01-scaled.jpg

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Lochaber smelter operator Alvance Aluminium says it has been working with the operator of Corpach harbour following complaints about clouds of carbon dust from the loading of a vessel.

Local residents lodged complaints with both SEPA (Scottish Environment Protection Agency) and Highland Council after an incident in early September – which was videoed by a local resident – in which carbon dust billowed across Loch Eil.

Carbon anodes, a by-product from the Lochaber smelter at Fort William, had been transported by dumper vehicles onto the jetty at Corpach. This had led to the initial complaint to SEPA about a cloud of carbon dust.

The following day a vessel was loaded with these carbon anodes. A local resident reported that, during this, a strong westerly wind again blew an amount of carbon dust onto the surface of the loch.

The plume of dust was said to be 50-150m long and continued for several hours and was witnessed by households across the loch and filmed.

Asked about the incident, a SEPA spokesperson told the Lochaber Times: ‘On Thursday, 3 September, SEPA received a report of dust pollution entering Loch Eil at Corpach port.

‘We have followed up with an operator in the area to ensure dust emissions are prevented in future.

‘Anyone who is concerned about a potential pollution incident can report via our website at www.sepa.org.uk/report’

Port operator, Boyd Brothers (Haulage) Ltd, currently has a retrospective planning application pending for a change of use for the former pulp mill social club, which it purchased and is using as a store for the carbon anodes prior to shipping.

Carbon is considered a by-product rather than waste and as a result waste management legislation does not apply. That means SEPA does not directly control the storage or handling of the material on site and, therefore, if these aspects need controlling it has to be done via planning conditions.

Dr Michael Foxley, deputy chairman of Ardgour Community Council, told Alvance Aluminium: ‘This recent activity was avoidable pollution of Loch Eil  with carbon and associated aggregates, falling far short of the environmental standards that your company expects.’

After he complained to SEPA, the environment agency informed Dr Foxley that new procedures had been put in place to prevent dust escaping during the loading process and this will be reviewed during the next loading. It is estimated that ship uplifts will be every three to four months.

Asked to comment, a spokesperson for Alvance told us: ‘We are aware of the ongoing investigation by Environmental Health into the loading of spent carbon anodes onto one ship at Corpach harbour a few months ago.

‘As a responsible industrial operator in the local area, we take this issue very seriously and have been working with the port operator [Boyd Brothers Ltd] in response to the investigation.’

Local councillor Ben Thompson (Caol and Mallaig) has repeatedly contacted Highland Council’s environmental health and planning enforcement officials over industrial activities at Corpach in recent years.

He told us this week: ‘Residents in Corpach have been regularly disturbed and left extremely frustrated by different types of pollution and nuisance from the site in recent years.

‘To their credit, the various commercial operators at Corpach have attended public meetings to explain their activities. However I’m still receiving regular complaints and this pollution incident is just the latest example.

‘If we’re going to get to a situation where there is no longer any need for public complaint, the operators really have to step up how they regulate their activities.’