Odour Management – Taking it Seriously

Peirson, S., ADAS Environmental Group, UK


Odour nuisance control has become an increasingly important aspect of wastewater treatment plant
operation. Recent legal cases and Government Codes of Practice have set out some basic expectations for
the defence of Statutory Nuisance cases. The industry also faces new legal challenges, and potentially
significant compensation claims, from “no win, no fee” type civil nuisance group litigation. Operators will
need to take odour management yet more seriously in future, and become better aware of the expectations
of regulators and the Courts.

This paper, which is based on practical odour control and courtroom case experience, is intended to help
operators identify where resources should be focused to manage high risk odour sites. It provides practical
guidance to help wastewater operators proactively plan, manage, control and monitor the risks of odour
nuisance and to provide evidence of “Best Practice” or “Best Practicable Means”.

Odour – A Higher Profile
Odour and odour management has become progressively more important for WwTW operators over the last
15-20 years. There are a number of reasons for this including:
a. More demanding planning conditions with strict requirements for odour controls where new works
have been built, or existing works extended. This has been particularly evident when new works
have been built in coastal towns.

b. Lower levels of public tolerance of WwTW odours, and a greater awareness in the population
generally about how to complain, who to complaint to, and how to campaign about odours. This is
not unique to the WwTW sector!
c. Legal clarification about the applicability of statutory nuisance legislation to WwTWs.
d. The growing threat of group legal actions by residents living around WwTW for civil damages and
compensation claims over nuisance caused by WwTW odours.
The last of these issues is a growing threat to WwTW operators, with potentially greater financial penalties
than statutory nuisance legislation. The defence of such cases may well require demonstration of a higher
level of commitment to odour controls than the Best Practicable Means (BPM) defence available in statutory
nuisance cases.

The WwTW industry has made a good deal of progress in addressing odour controls over recent years and
many of the obvious, usually sludge related, odour sources on sensitive works are now covered and extracted
to abatement. In fact the wastewater utilities have almost certainly developed the most advanced
knowledge and experience of odour controls of any of the UK’s odorous industry sectors.

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