by Brandon Mayer
Winchester dairy production company, Lactalis Canada Inc. (formerly known as Parmalat), has been fined $620,000 for violating the Environmental Protection Act.
The fine, which includes $110,000 payable to Queen’s University to support the Beaty Water Research Centre, was imposed upon Lactalis’ conviction for three violations between 2017 and 2019.
The offences committed relate to discharging odours into the environment and the negative impacts that such odours have had on nearby residences and businesses. A statement released by the Government of Ontario details these negative impacts. “The strong odour caused area residents to stay indoors with their windows closed, and to be woken from their sleep, and in some cases, ultimately seeking sleep accommodation elsewhere” the statement reads.
Further to the discharge of odours, the company also violated the operating limits of its on-site sewage treatment plant in 2017 after beginning to operate a milk microfiltration system that increased wastewater flow. This caused “septic conditions and significant odour” according to the Government of Ontario statement, and residents continued to lodge complaints about the stench in 2018 and 2019.
Secondary effects from the discharge included health impacts, financial impacts, and residents reporting a decrease in the enjoyment of their properties.
Lactalis has spent $17.39 million between 2017 and 2020 to upgrade the sewage treatment system. Many area residents have noticed significant improvements in the odour issue since the upgrades took place, with very few complaints being made on social media in recent months. However, a few odour incidents took place last month which the company blamed on several power outages that caused wastewater to sit in hot lagoons.
Public opinion on the Parmalat / Lactalis odour problem has been consistently divided. Over several years, social media, particularly on Facebook through the What’s Up, Winchester page, was filled with complaints from both Winchester residents who were annoyed or woken up by the smell, and from potential town visitors who were put off their dining by the stench.
This often ignited heated debates with other seasoned residents who were peeved at newcomers who didn’t do their research on what was a generally well known issue. There was also anger and fear that pressure from the public would drive Lactalis, which is among the largest employers in the area, out of town.
To some, the conviction and fine imposed may provide closure for past hardship, and a reassurance that a problem which has been slowly on the mend for years will be far less likely to recur after such a conviction.
The Times reached out to Lactalis for comment and received this prepared statement in return.
“As per the Ontario Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks’ Court Bulletin on September 10, 2021, Lactalis Canada voluntarily pled guilty to the noted offences under the Environmental Protection Act and accepts the associated fine including the payment to Queen’s University that will benefit the Beaty Water Research Centre. As part of our continued commitment and efforts in mitigating related odours and enhancing the wastewater treatment process, Lactalis Canada completed a three-year, $17.39 million Wastewater Treatment Modernization Project in 2020 to address these issues. As a long-standing member of Winchester community, Lactalis Canada is proud of its deep ties to the region and places great importance on having a positive impact on the community and the safety and wellbeing of its members.”
Social media activity has been unusually minimal regarding the conviction.