Residents who live near the world’s largest cheddar factory say the cheese really does give them nightmares, claiming its smoke and pollution make them depressed, sleepless – and even suicidal.
Residents near Davidstow Creamery say the repulsive smells and noise coming from the factory made their lives hell for years.
Among the well-known brands produced at the factory, which is the UK’s largest dairy, are Cathedral City, Frylight, Clover and Davidstow Cheddar.
But despite a five-year-old court order ordering landlords to reduce odor and pollution, local residents say they remain irritated by the lack of action.
The problems have gotten so bad that last year a record fine of £1.5m was issued following an Environmental Agency lawsuit.
During the Truro Crown Court case, EA said the company’s environmental performance had been unacceptable ‘for too long and needed to improve significantly’.
And residents say that despite the fine, which was a record for the Southwest, they are still suffering to an unacceptable degree.
Married couple Jim Hunt, 69, and Kasia Turajczyk, 66, from nearby Tremail, said they noticed something was very wrong shortly after moving to the area in 2016.
Jim said: ‘People are getting more and more angry with each passing year. I can’t imagine how bad it is for the people even closest to us. The noise every time you try to sleep, the smells every day, non-stop for years. It can really get to you.
‘I’m really upset about the whole thing. Nothing has changed and it just overwhelms people year after year. It’s not just smell, it’s poisonous gas, noise, you can’t sleep, kids can’t play outside most of the time. It is bound to bring people down.
“Sometimes the smell is so bad that we have to close the windows – it was awful.
“It has its own unique scent. It varies – sometimes it’s like a dead sheep, sometimes rotten eggs, sometimes sewage. It made me sick.
Ms Turajczyk added: ‘The noise is terrible too. I was lying in bed and I could hear something buzzing. I thought the farmers must be doing something crazy in the middle of the night. It’s crazy and I couldn’t sleep.’
Dairy Crest pleaded guilty to 21 of the 27 charges brought against them and were fined £1.52m in June last year.
In handing down sentence, HHJ Simon Carr said it seemed like there was never a trouble-free time and added that he was ‘moved’ to read the testimony of residents whose lives have been ‘ruined’ by odors.
The company on its website says it has been “perfecting our cheese here for nearly 70 years, ever since the milk factory first came to life on a former WWII RAF airfield”.
But despite the huge profits made from the site, residents say the company has done little to assuage their grievances.
Local resident Mario Dabrowski, 66, said: ‘It’s been an issue since we got here and it’s ongoing with the Environmental Agency. They are in contact with the dairy, but nothing seems to be done.
“Every day people comment on how bad the smell is. It’s been going on since we were down there.
“We didn’t know it when we moved here, but it can smell like sewage. They were fined, but they’re such a big company, I don’t think it bothers them too much. It’s worse in the spring and summer months when the weather is nice, as people just don’t want to be outside when it’s so bad.
His wife Janet Dabrowski, 63, added: “The noise and the smell are bad, but I think the smell is worse. Once it was so bad I felt bad.
Davidstow Creamery is the UK’s largest dairy processing facility and one of the largest factories in Europe. Each year it produces 57,000 tonnes of dairy products, including Davidstow Cheddar and Cathedral City.
Around 1.3 million liters of milk are brought to the site daily from around 370 local dairy farms.
Approximately 1.2 million liters of treated process effluent is discharged into the upper Inny River daily.
The Environmental Agency said substances or products created during the manufacturing process are harmful to the environment, meaning it is a regulated facility and requires an environmental license to operate.
This license has several conditions that must be met to minimize the risk of pollution to the environment. These include limits on the quality and quantity of treated effluent that is discharged into the Inny River, as well as odor and noise.
Among the offenses she pleaded guilty to last year was the release of a harmful biocide, used to clean wastewater tanks and pipes, into the river and the killing of thousands of fish over a 2-kilometer stretch on Aug. 2016.
The company also admitted to coating the Inny River with a black, noxious sludge for 5 kilometers in 2018, through the release of a mass of suspended solids in July and August 2018.
EA said that since the site shifted production to focus on processing whey, primarily to produce powder used in baby milk and other products, the effluent discharged into the Inny River has been more difficult to treat.
A spokesperson said: ‘We have received and responded to a number of odor and noise complaints in 2022 and so far in 2023 from the Davidstow Creamery wastewater processing facility, operated by Dairy Crest Limited (owned by Saputo Dairy UK).
“We recorded several permit violations for various issues during this time, including odor, noise and water quality, and we agree that there were unacceptable impacts of the site on the local people and the environment.
‘We are requiring the operator to take measures to prevent or minimize these impacts now and in the future.
‘In 2022, we sued the operator for offenses between 2016 and 2020, including causing odor pollution, and we have ongoing investigations into offenses from 2021 and 2022.’
The company will continue to monitor complaints and improve its production process.
A Saputo spokesperson said: ‘We have undertaken a substantial program of capital investment and operational improvements over the past four years at the Davidstow site. We are aware of some neighbors still experiencing issues with odor and noise and other initiatives are underway to address this that they are aware of.
‘We work closely with the Environment Agency (EA) – sharing plans and regularly reporting on progress. In addition, we hold regular three-way meetings with EA and local residents to update them on progress and discuss any complaints.
‘Davidstow residents are represented by the parish council, with whom we have a productive working relationship. We recommend speaking with them as they are best placed to speak on behalf of the wider community.’