Select Committee on Scottish Affairs Minutes of Evidence



  A working group was originally set up by the Clyde River Purification Board and the malt distillers from Islay and Jura in 1992 to explore areas of concern regarding the environmental impacts of the associated aqueous discharges.

  This group was expanded with the creation of Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) in 1996 through representation of all the major distilling companies. The group met at least once a year to plan progress and discuss the results of surveys and laboratory work on the chemistry of the effluent streams and their potential toxicity.

  The difficulties of obtaining adequate dilution in the sea to meet environmental standards had become clear from previous oceanographic surveys. At this point virtually all the field environmental information had been collected by SEPA and its predecessor bodies. Some of the data had been derived from laboratory-based studies which gave conservative results. SEPA suggested detailed field trials at a typical distillery and the Malt Distillers Association proposed the Talisker Distillery on Skye. A specification was agreed, the work was funded by the industry, and consultants began the project in 1997.

  When SEPA scientists received and reviewed the reports in 1998 they felt that, while the results improved knowledge to a degree, some of the conclusions relied on unproven relationships. In consequence a revised second phase was jointly agreed.

  The results of this second study were presented to SEPA in 2000 and vindicated SEPA's previous doubts. The observed reduced toxicity of effluent proved to be related to the degree of peatiness of the discharged cooling water, rather than to the mixing of spent lees and spent wash, as had been assumed by the industry to be the case. During the period of this study there was regular contact between SEPA staff and the industry technical representative.

  SEPA subsequently met with the industry to begin to formulate general consent setting guidelines based on the results of this joint work. SEPA guidelines have now been produced and presented to the industry in November 2000. A final version will be incorporated in SEPA's national consenting manual which will be published soon.

  There have been more than 30 meetings with individual distilling companies over the last two to three years to help companies with their particular discharge problems. Most recently senior SEPA scientific and regulatory staff visited Islay on 12 and 13 February 2001 to discuss the latest developments at Caol Ila, Bruicladdich, Laphroaig, Ardbeg and Jura Distilleries.


  SEPA currently has 11 charging schemes which are detailed below.

Charging Scheme

  Control of Pollution Act (COPA).

  Radioactive Substances Act (RSA).

  Waste Management Charging (Scotland) (WML).

  Producer Responsibility Obligations (PRW).

  Special Waste Regulations (SPW).

  Integrated Pollution Control (IPC).

  Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control (IPPC).

  Air Pollution Control (APC).

  Groundwater Regulations (GRW).

  Control of Major Accident Hazard Regulations (COMAH).

  Polychlorinated Biphenyls/Triphenyls (PCB/PCT).

The Dumfries Aquifer

  1.  The Dumfries aquifer is generally regarded as the most productive aquifer in Scotland. In the Dumfries basin the Permian consists of 1,000 metres of sandstone sediments. Sustainable borehole yields of up to 60 l/s have been recorded and the aquifer is being increasingly utilised by industry. In and around Dumfries, groundwater is abstracted by manufacturing industry, fish farms and as a source of potable supply by the water authority. SEPA undertakes monitoring at a number of boreholes to gather information on water quantity and quality. It is believed that the waters of the aquifer might be as much as 10,000 years old and recharge rates are not well understood.

  2.  Dumfries is the most densely populated town in the region and land use over the aquifer extends to industrial production, housing developments, agriculture and waste disposal by landfill. Agriculture is a major industry and being mainly beef and dairy leads to large quantities of slurry being disposed of to land. Similarly, it has always been the practice in Dumfries and Galloway to dispose of sewage sludge to land. Audits are made by SEPA of these activities.

  3.  SEPA has concerns over a large landfill located on the south-east fringe of the aquifer and has stressed its concerns in respect of potential contamination of groundwaters together with surface waters adjacent to the site. As part of the licence review, impact studies were conducted on the waste disposal site and recommendations made with regards to protection of the aquifer.

  4.  Elsewhere, contaminated ground has been found in connection with historical industrial activities and clean-up operations limited the spread of the contamination before returning soils to unpolluted conditions. The site has now been redeveloped as a business park.

  5.  Outwith the sewered communities of Dumfries and its environs, SEPA controls effluent discharges by Prohibition Notices from the numerous ongoing domestic dwelling developments in order to protect ground water resources. In the Terregles area to the west of Dumfries the aquifer is used by a fish farm and as a source of potable supply. SEPA has objected to development within zone one of these abstractions in line with the groundwater policy and as a result development has been restricted. The controls extend to a surface water stream that is linked to the aquifer and which drains the Terregles area. Indeed, flows in the stream are artificially elevated due to the input of fish farm effluent that emanates from the abstracted waters of the aquifer used to support fish production.

Scottish Environment Protection Agency

March 2001

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