Compost factory smell 'affecting our children’s lives' (2024)

ByNiall McCracken,BBC News NI Mid Ulster Reporter

Compost factory smell 'affecting our children’s lives' (1)Compost factory smell 'affecting our children’s lives' (2)BBC

“It can smell like rotten vegetables, a fusty odour, it’s very overpowering and sometimes we’ve no choice but to bring the children inside.”

Louise Quinn, principal of Cabragh Primary School in County Tyrone, has a problem.

The rural school is about a mile away from a compost factory, which she and others say is creating a bad smell.

In March, local residents protested outside Northway Mushrooms to voice their concerns about a smell that they say they’ve been living with for years.

Months later, the local school and GAA club say the smell is still impacting children’s everyday lives.

Earlier this month, the company went into administration.

Administrators have said the factory, which produces poultry litter compost, continues to operate on a “business-as-usual basis”.

BBC News NI understands the factory will continue to operate for the foreseeable future and the administration process could last weeks or months.

A spokesperson had previously said the plant is operated to “the highest standards” and that recent government odour assessments found “no issues”.

The company also said complaints about health "must be based on facts".

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Anthony McGonnell, a member of Cabragh primary school’s board of governors, said people in the area are "not troublemakers and raising issues for the sake of it".

"These objections are because of people’s real experiences."

Principal Louise Quinn said the smell had prevented children from using a sensory garden on the school grounds.

She added: “It does vary, sometimes we get it in the mornings and sometimes late afternoon, and wind direction seems to play a part.”

The morning BBC News NI arrived at the school to interview staff, a smell was there, but very faint.

And a few days later during youth training at the local GAA club, the smell made its presence known.

Compost factory smell 'affecting our children’s lives' (5)Compost factory smell 'affecting our children’s lives' (6)

Killeeshil St Mary’s training ground is within a few miles of the Northway factory.

The club says it has had to postpone several training sessions because of the smell.

When BBC News NI was halfway through interviewing club chairman, Colm Rafferty, the wind picked up and an unpleasant smell emerged as training went on nearby.

Mr Rafferty said: “You can smell it there now. It gets right into your throat. It’s sickening and it’s not fair on these young people.

He added: “This evening it’s nowhere near as bad as it can be, there are days people who live in the area can’t have barbecues or put their clothes out for drying. It’s not right.”

Conor Holland lives locally and his children are also involved in the club - he said the smell is a regular occurrence.

"Last weekend we actually thought there was a dead animal in the house it was that bad.

“We had to close all the doors and windows and stay inside.”

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To date there has been no enforcement action against Northway Mushrooms.

But Mid Ulster Council has confirmed to BBC News NI it is currently investigating “potential breaches”.

Meanwhile a planning application to expand the yard and equipment at the factory has attracted more than 150 letters of objection.

A spokesperson for Mid Ulster Council said it was aware of community concerns but couldn’t comment further as there was a live investigation.

'No adverse findings'

BBC News NI contacted Northway Mushrooms earlier this month before it entered administration and raised a number of the concerns highlighted by some local residents.

It said the factory played a “critical role in the agri-food industry” and sustained a large number of jobs in the area.

A spokesperson added: “We take all issues and claims raised very seriously, particularly those relating to health, which must be based on facts.

“Over the last 12 months we have had on-site inspections carried out by all relevant health and safety authorities. These inspections have not resulted in any adverse findings or concerns.”

Compost factory smell 'affecting our children’s lives' (9)Compost factory smell 'affecting our children’s lives' (10)BBC News

Northway currently has a planning application in with Mid Ulster Council for a yard extension for additional bale storage and equipment.

In a statement released earlier this month, the company said the application was part of a “commitment to improving the operational performance of the facility".

'Spreading of slurry'

Concerns surrounding odour issues at Northway have been discussed several times at Mid Ulster Council.

The issue was also raised in a letter dated 3 June 2024 from Mid Ulster Council’s Environmental Health Department.

It stated that “ongoing investigations have confirmed the presence of odours on numerous occasions and at various locations around the existing site”.

The Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) investigates environmental crimes and safety breaches.

It said there had been no breaches or enforcement action against Northway Mushrooms and that it continued to monitor the situation.

In a statement it said: “For the NIEA the presence of odour from the Northway Mushroom facility may not in itself be deemed to be a breach of the conditions of their waste management licence.”

BBC News NI also contacted the joint administrators of Northway Mushrooms, but they said they had no further comment to make at this time.

Commenting on the concerns raised by the local GAA club an NIEA spokesperson added: “On 6 June 2024, whilst an odour at that location was detected, it was attributed to the land spreading of slurry.”

Mid Ulster councillor Kevin McElvogue lives in the area and said linking the smell to slurry was “insulting”.

He said: “That is total nonsense, in my opinion. This is a big farming community here - they know the difference between this smell and the spreading of slurry.

“All local people want here is the smell addressed - simple as that.”

Northern Ireland

Environment

Compost factory smell 'affecting our children’s lives' (2024)

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