Fitness equipment manufacturer Blk Box fined £5,000 over river fish kill incidents

The site of the Blk Box factory in Monkstown Industrial Estate, Co Antrim.
The site of the Blk Box factory in Monkstown Industrial Estate, Co Antrim.

A company that manufactures gym equipment for some of the biggest sports teams and brands in Ireland and the UK has been fined £5,000 for polluting the Three Mile Water River in Co Antrim.

Blk Box Fitness was handed the fine at Laganside Magistrates' Court on Tuesday, after pleading guilty to two counts of water pollution.

The incidents took place in May 2021 and August 2021. Two serious fish kill incidents were reported by Three Mile Water Conservation and Angling Association during 2021.

It's understood the pollution was traced to the Blk Box factory at Monkstown Industrial Estate, Newtownabbey.

Blk Box, which was founded in 2012, relocated to the Monkstown site during 2021, moving from its original base in Belfast’s Titanic Quarter.

The company specialises in the design and fit-out of training facilities. Its extensive list of high profile customers includes Adidas, PureGym, Irish Rugby, Arsenal FC and Kerry GAA.

The Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) said more than 1.5km of the Three Mile Water River was impacted by the pollution incidents.

The department said Blk Box was also ordered to pay £661.62 for re-stocking costs in respect of the fish kills, which included 329 brown trout of multiple age classes.

In a statement, Blk Box said its 2021 move to Newtownabbey involved a £500,000 investment in a new automated powder coating and treatment line.

“As no detailed technical drawings were available of the chosen Cloughfern site when the line was being commissioned, the company took professional advice which stated that, for a factory of its age and size, the site would have a combined system, discharging into the Northern Ireland drainage system for treatment," said the company.

“However, it transpired that the site had separate storm and foul drainage systems and as a result, waste effluent from the powder coating treatment plant was incorrectly and unknowingly discharged to the storm system, rather than the foul system. 

“The discharge of materials into the storm system subsequently passed into the local waterways at Three Mile Water and this led to a loss of marine life in the river system in August 2021."

The company said it had fully cooperated with the Northern Ireland Environment Agency and other authorities and said "full remedial works and further investment" had been made to the drainage system to ensure such a similar incident does not occur again.

Blk Box founder, Greg Bradley, said: “Blk Box takes its obligations towards environmental matters and sustainability seriously and has recently been independently audited and scored ‘excellent’ in environmental, sustainability and governance.

"We are deeply upset by the fish kill at Three Mile Water and we have done all that we can to cooperate fully with the authorities to ensure that an incident like this never happens again.

“We deeply regret that this pollution took place, the advice given to us was wrong at the time of commissioning, but we have corrected it now and this type of incident will not happen again.”