Parmalat declines comment on charges laid by provincial environment ministry for alleged Winchester stink

A bird's eye view of the Parmalat plant in Winchester, as seen from a rooftop near the corner of St. Lawrence and Main in the village. Zandbergen photo, Nation Valley News

WINCHESTER — Canada’s biggest cheese plant here is accused of cutting loose with odours that fell afoul of provincial law last month.

Parmalat Canada Inc. was due in Cornwall court for an initial hearing yesterday after the Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks charged the corporation with “five alleged violations under the Environmental Protection Act,” ministry spokesperson Gary Wheeler confirmed by  email.

“The charges relate to discharging odours into the natural environment … ‘likely to cause an adverse effect and failing to comply with conditions of a ministry approval for the on-site sewage treatment plant,’” Wheeler wrote, adding he could offer no further comment as the matter is before the courts.

Parmalat itself has declined comment for the same reason. “This issue is now in the hands of the Court, therefore we cannot respond to your questions at this time,” wrote Anita Jarjour, Parmalat Director, Government and Industry Relations and Communications.

A fixture in Winchester for generations, the involved cheese factory underwent a major expansion in 2017 to process an additional 200 million litres of Canadian milk per year. Most of that milk is believed to come from Ontario and Quebec, but there are anecdotal reports in the community of shipments occasionally arriving in Winchester from as far away as Alberta. The facility also accepts and processes an unquantified amount of American milk into cheese, shipping that particular product straight back to the United States, under a long-standing “import for export” program that effectively makes Winchester’s cheese-making capacity available to the U.S. dairy industry.

In concert with the recent capacity increase at the plant, Parmalat has attempted to modernize its waste-handling process to curtail odours.  Those presumed improvements included the construction of a new dissolved air flotation (DAF) effluent filtration system to prevent solids from reaching Parmalat’s nearby local lagoons in the first place. That change was supposed to eliminate the traditional stewing of sludge in open water just outside the village limits as well as the annual drawing out of the same material for agricultural spreading.

Also deployed were giant rubber bag “geotubes” to dewater the waste and capture more solids — although Jarjour told NVN this month the bags are no longer used because they were a “temporary measure to treat accumulated biosolids.”

The new waste-handling tech wasn’t fully operational when the plant upped its output and began handling more milk in 2017, however, leading to public odour complaints — especially on social media — over the last two summers. Matters reached a head during a July 10, 2018 public meeting in Winchester where plant manager Bruce Shurtleff touted the impending completion of the waste upgrades as the likely solution to the problem.

Some complaints have persisted on social media this spring, however, along with countervailing suggestions that residents were confusing the smell of normal agricultural manure-spreading operations on fields around Winchester with Parmalat’s activities.

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