Any Birżebbuġa resident who believes that a new tuna recycling plant is causing foul smells should visit the factory and smell it for themselves, its CEO has said.
Charlon Gouder said that the Ħal Far plant is not responsible for any smells in the area and that inspectors had never reported a stench in any of their 60 inspections since October.
The factory is operated by Aquaculture Resources Limited, a company jointly set up by Malta’s largest tuna ranchers to process excess tuna into ingredients that can be sold on export.
Activists and residents have complained that an “unbearable stench,” has taken hold of Birżebbuġa and the Ħal Far industrial estate since the factory began operating.
Following weeks of tensions, demonstrators took to the streets of Birżebbuġa on Saturday morning to voice their discontent and demand that the plant be closed down until a solution to the stench can be found.
A factory tour, with next to no smells
But Gouder insists that they have it wrong.
He took Times of Malta on a tour of the factory on Friday, as its tuna processing machinery was operating in full flow.
“Since opening the plant in October, we’ve had 60 environmental inspections from the Environmental Resource Authority, they have never found a stench,” Gouder said.
The processing plant turns tuna bits that aren’t eaten by humans into ingredients used in pet food, fish meal and fish oil. No part of the tuna, including water extracted in the process, is thrown away, he said.
Only the water used for cleaning is thrown away, he said. However, the water is treated beforehand, he said.
Before the opening of the plant tuna heads, intestines and other parts that weren’t sold were thrown in the sea miles away from the coast. This is no longer permitted, he said.
There are two separate chimneys at the factory: one emits air from inside the machines, while the other expels air from the building itself. The chimneys filter air using UV rays, carbon, and ozone, Gouder said.
When standing around one metre from the chimneys, there was a faint odour similar to that of cat food. The smell could not be detected from around a three-metre distance.
Times of Malta also asked a number of residents living in the streets closest to the plant about the smell.
Of the 10 residents stopped, six said that they had not experienced a stench while four said they did. Of those four, one describing the smell that started in October as “a smell of death”.
The factory operators have also been accused by ADPD, Moviment Graffitti and Għaqda Storja u Kultura Birżebbuġa of failing to consult with stakeholders. But Gouder brushed aside that charge, saying stakeholders had one month to submit feedback as part of the factory’s application with the Environment and Resources Authority for an integrated pollution prevention and control permit.
Birżebbuġa mayor Scott Camilleri said the town did not have a problem with the stench before the plant had opened.
He said the Water Services Cooperation had recently stopped the plant from disposing of wastewater in the drainage system. That was a big step forward, he said.
“We are in favour of the circular economy but don’t want residents to be affected,” he said.