SEPA issues first Scottish penalty for greenhouse gas leak under F-Gas Regulations

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Scotland’s environmental regulator has issued a civil penalty of £75,000 to a health food supplements manufacturer for failing to provide a leakage detection system on equipment containing powerful greenhouse gases that trap heat in the atmosphere and contribute to climate change.

DSM Nutritional Products (UK) Limited, based in Dalry in Ayrshire, received the first penalty to be issued in Scotland under the Fluorinated Greenhouse Gases Regulations 2015 (the F-Gas regulations 2015), which are designed to control fluorinated greenhouse gases (F-gases). The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) is one of the ‘enforcing authorities’ for F-Gas Regulations in Scotland – carrying out audits to ensure compliance with the system and taking appropriate enforcement action where required.

DSM Nutritional Products (UK) Limited operates equipment that requires an F-gas to function, and the company must submit data to SEPA every year under the Scottish Pollutant Release Inventory (SPRI). In 2020 the emissions reported (898.20kg) were over eight times the reporting threshold, considerably higher than previous years and were flagged by SPRI as being in the top three highest emitters for Scotland.

SEPA’s specialist Carbon Reduction, Energy and Industry Unit began an investigation and discovered there had been accidental releases of F -gases from the site. While there is no requirement under the F-gas regulations 2015 to inform SEPA of any release, operators of equipment that contains F-gases must take precautions to prevent the unintentional release (‘leakage’) of those gases. For some equipment automatic leakage detection systems may be required.

Jamie McGeachy, SEPA’s Carbon reduction, Energy and Industry Unit Manager, said:

“The scale of the environmental challenge facing humanity is enormous, with a need for a real urgency to act. The F-gas regulations aim to reduce the use of HFC refrigerants, through better control of their containment in existing applications and their recovery for recycling or destruction – and compliance with them is not optional.

“The requirement to install a leak detection system first came into force in 2006, which means the company was non-compliant for 14 years before this leak happened. It is simply unacceptable for industries that use greenhouse gases to fail to meet their environmental responsibilities. This civil penalty demonstrates SEPA’s commitment to enforcing obligations under the F-Gas Regulations and I hope it serves as a warning to any operator using F-gases.

“Operators will get the environmental regulator they deserve. Check your equipment and ensure that you are fully compliant with the regulations – if you need help and advice get in touch, you will find a helpful and supportive agency. If you’re not compliant, whether through complacency or a deliberate act, we’ll take the appropriate action to force you to comply.”

Level of civil penalty
DSM Nutritional Products (UK) Limited, operates four chilled water units, each of which holds 600kg of R134A, a hydrofluoro carbon (HFC) gas with a high global warming potential that is used in refrigeration systems. DSM was legally required to ensure that any chiller that holds over 500 tonnes of CO2 equivalent (tCO2e *) or above had a leak detection system which alerts the operator or a service company of any leakage. The four chiller tanks contained a total capacity of 3,432 tCO2e and no leak detection system was in place.

DSM has advised SEPA that the two water chillers responsible for most of the leaks were installed in 1980 by the previous operator of the site. Refrigerants have changed over the years and at some point there was an increase in holding capacity – the labels on the machines were not updated.

The F-Gas Regulations provide for the imposition of a maximum civil penalty of £100,000 for breach of the requirement to install a leakage detection system where one is required.

SEPA has discretion on whether to impose a civil penalty and whether to impose the maximum amount. DSM Nutritional Products (UK) Limited cooperated fully with SEPA’s investigation and provided information and documentation when requested to do so in a timely manner. It has installed a leak detection system and has a plan to reduce reliance on F Gases. SEPA reduced the civil penalty to £75,000 – which has been paid.

* CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent) allows greenhouse gas emissions to be expressed in terms of carbon dioxide (CO2) based on their relative global warming potential.