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Dust, steam, smells
For general information and advice on statutory nuisances, please visit our main statutory nuisance page. It provides background information on what the requirements are for something to be a statutory nuisance, information on how we investigate and seek remedy, and what information we would require from you.
The Environmental Protection Act 1990 lists dust, steam, smells or other effluvia as being a statutory nuisance, but only if they come from industrial, trade or business premises. The issue may be:
dust from demolition and construction sites
paints or solvents from a vehicle garage
We cannot deal with dust, steam or smells, such as cooking odours, from domestic premises or dust, steam or smell from railway locomotives. The legislation excludes these things from being a statutory nuisance.
We have to assess whether the issue interferes significantly with the quality of life of people nearby, how often it is present and its characteristics. Assessing smells can be difficult because people respond differently to them.
The problem has to be more than simply irritating or inconvenient, for us to consider it a statutory nuisance. Our assessment of whether a particular problem amounts to a statutory nuisance has to be made from the perspective of an ordinary reasonable person. This means that the Council must exclude any personal circumstances or particular sensitivities (including medical conditions) of the complainant from our considerations when assessing nuisance.
Some smells, such as from spreading slurry or sludge on to farmland, are unavoidable, but also temporary.
We cannot enforce any changes if the business has already adopted best practicable methods to reduce the potential nuisance.
The Environment Agency controls some potential dust or odour nuisances, such as from facilities dealing with waste or sewage, with environmental permits as part of pollution control. The Council cannot take action where the permit, or the legislation under which the permit was issued, would address the nuisance.
These sites produce dust as a result of the work being undertaken, which impacts on local air quality and can cause nuisance.
Dust is a greater problem during periods of dry, windy weather where site managers may have genuine difficulties in controlling dust to reasonable levels. They are required to take all reasonable steps to minimise nuisance and we can issue specific guidance if necessary.
We have no specific control over issues involving vehicle movements to and from a site, but the highway authority may require steps to be taken to reduce deposits onto roads that may be a source of dust.
Reducing the risk of dust nuisance
Methods to reduce the risk of causing dust nuisance include the following:
installation of wheel washing facilities at site entrances/exits
water spraying of haul roads and piles of rubble
provide hard-surfaced roadways
water spraying during demolition
reduction of speeds on haul roads
seeding stockpiles for long-term cover
seeding stockpiles with bonding agents
sheeting of haulage vehicles
using sealed or sheeted containers/skips for waste materials
erecting barriers or sheeting around works
use of chutes to move materials and full skips
wash down vehicles
We would normally liaise with the Health & Safety Executive when dust is reported as a problem at a construction or demolition site and is not being adequately controlled.
During the spring and in summer after harvesting, we sometimes receive complaints about agricultural odours, such as the storing and spreading of bio-solids (sewage sludge), animal manures and slurries (muck spreading). Prevailing winds can carry these odours some distance across fields and into residential areas.
The spreading of treated sewage sludge and the incorporation of manure and slurry into agricultural land is a perfectly lawful activity and considered the best practicable environmental option for disposal (recycling) of such waste products. It returns nutrients to the soil and reduces the use of chemical fertilisers.
Although spreading is a standard agricultural practice, and odour is to be expected, it should be undertaken in accordance with the best practice guidance given in the Government's Code of Good Agricultural Practice for farmers, growers and land managers. Best practice advice to try and reduce odour and ammonia loss includes:
use a band spreader or injector to apply slurry; otherwise, use broadcast equipment with a low trajectory and large droplets. Broadcast slurry (by splash plate) should be incorporated immediately, and at the latest within 6 hours
if solid manure, it should be incorporated as soon as possible and at the latest within 24 hours.
It is not always possible to advise as to the expected duration or anticipated intensity of odours, as this can be dependent upon weather conditions, but the smell should reduce after 24 to 48 hours.
Spreading can only be undertaken in fair weather as ploughing in wet, cold or frozen ground is not possible. Ploughing in of manures or sludge follows harvesting to replenish the soil ready for the following year. Unfortunately this means that spreading is most likely to occur at times when people will want to have their windows open or be outside in their gardens.
Agricultural odours are not likely to be investigated by the Council unless there is evidence of best practice not being followed with the result that the smell is unreasonably intrusive. Due to the usually short duration of the activity, and providing the farm has used best practicable means, any odour is unlikely to be a statutory nuisance.
The practice of stockpiling and then spreading of treated sewage sludge on farmland is controlled by the Sludge (Use in Agriculture) Regulations 1989, which is regulated by the Environment Agency, and subject also to the Sewage sludge in agriculture: code of practice.
Although it is not possible to completely remove all odours, planning conditions generally prevent odour nuisances occurring from commercial kitchens.
If you feel that odour from a commercial kitchen, such as a restaurant or pub, is having an unreasonable effect on the enjoyment of your property, please contact us for advice. We will assess whether the offending kitchen is operating 'best practicable means'. For example, the extraction system being suitable for the types of food and quantities of foods being cooked. If the premises is already operating 'best practicable means', we have little remit to enforce change.
Need more information?
(Health & Safety Executive)
Dept. of Environment, Food & Rural Affairs
Public Safety & Regulation
Newcastle upon Tyne
Telephone: 0191 278 7878