Wyeth and waste management firm face €12m fines

Thu, Jul 29, 2010, 01:00

A LEADING pharmaceutical company and one of its contractors could face fines of up to €12.7 million each for breaches of waste management laws, Dublin Circuit Criminal Court has heard.

AHP Manufacturing Bv, trading as Wyeth Medica Ireland, and waste management company Cara Environmental Technology Ltd have pleaded guilty to four counts of breaching environmental protection laws in 2000 and 2001.

Judge Patricia Ryan yesterday adjourned sentencing to October 18th.

The charges relate to the illegal shipment of waste water from Wyeth’s Newbridge plant by Cara to a Belgian company, Bioland. The water, which contained the waste product of medroxyprogesterone acetate (MPA), a contraceptive drug, was processed into treacle to be fed to pigs. It caused a major food scare in 2002 when Dutch farmers noticed their pigs were having fertility problems.

Wyeth has pleaded guilty to shipping waste out of the State without the required shipment certificate; engaging an agent who mixed hazardous waste with non-hazardous waste; and two charges of failing to comply with a condition of a pollution control licence. The maximum penalty for each offence is €12.7 million.

Tom O’Connell SC, prosecuting, said the waste from Newbridge should have been classified as amber and red under hazardous waste classification, which required notification of the local authority, but was labelled green.

Cara has pleaded guilty to four separate counts of shipping waste without a certificate on dates in 2000 and 2001.

Mr O’Connell said the prosecution accepted that Wyeth had no intention to cause any damage or harm and the consequences of what had happened were not foreseeable. At all times, the company believed its waste was being properly treated in Belgium.

He said Wyeth had co-operated with the Garda investigation. Cara had generally declined to comment when interviewed by gardaí, citing legal advice. Wyeth had agreed to pay €70,000 and Cara €50,000 towards the legal costs of the prosecution, he added.

The court heard that a Belgian court last month gave the two owners of Bioland, brothers Hubertus and Henricus van Vught, a three-year suspended sentence and a €50,000 fine for acting dishonestly for financial gain in handling the waste.

Det Garda Philip Ryan told the court that representatives of Cara and Wyeth visited Bioland in October 1999. Wyeth asked for a copy of Bioland’s licence to handle the waste but it was never forthcoming and it later emerged Bioland did not have a licence.

He agreed with Shane Murphy SC, for Wyeth, that audits of the Newbridge plant by the Environmental Protection Agency were entirely clear and showed the company followed best practice. There was no evidence of any conscious decision by Wyeth or its staff to act unlawfully for commercial gain.

Patrick Gageby SC, for Cara, said two reputable companies had made a series of errors which led to events in Belgium. There was no suggestion of an ulterior motive or economic advantage.