Ink spill makes beautiful mess at Howard Hunt

Jo Francis
Thursday, May 9, 2019

A major clean-up operation has been underway at Howard Hunt after trespassers opened the valves on its bulk ink storage facility, causing a large ink spill that was likened to children’s TV show Art Attack by the emergency services.

The incident took place in the early hours of Saturday 20 April during the Easter bank holiday weekend, at Howard Hunt’s factory in Dartford.

Kent Fire and Rescue Service arrived on the scene to contain the spill and stop ink from entering the watercourse, capturing a stunning image of the spillage (see below) in the process.

A spokesperson said: "Kent Fire and Rescue Service was called to Masthead Close in Dartford on 20 April to reports of an ink spillage. Three fire engines attended and crews worked to stop the 5,000 litres of ink (approx) entering the watercourse, using clay mats to cover nearby drains. The spillage is believed to have happened as a result of the containers being tampered with. Duty of care was left with the site owner." 

In a statement, Howard Hunt said: “Fantastic response from both local authorities and Howard Hunt’s partners have meant that a major incident was avoided and environmental waste specialists have been working round the clock to contain the issue and recycle the waste through a dedicated waste management chain.”

The site’s head of print Barry Fitzpatrick praised everyone involved for their “timely and professional” response.

“The speed at which we were able to control and contain the incident is testament to the disaster recovery and specialist teams we have in place. Security measures have been increased across all production sites and continued remediation work is underway, being overseen by an expert safety and security crew.”

The clean-up operation is pictured below. 


An ink industry expert told PrintWeek that each of the bulk ink silos holds 1,000 kilos of ink. It’s not clear whether all of the containers pictured were opened, but the cost of the ink, replacement ink and the clean-up is likely to run into many thousands of pounds.

“It costs a fortune to dispose of it,” he said. “For the ink to flow you have to have unscrewed the cap at the base, and opened the valve. There is a failsafe, but it’s not tamper-proof.”

PrintWeek understands the ink supplier is Huber Group.

Howard Hunt lays claim to being the UK’s largest producer of direct mail, typically producing 600m pieces a year. The firm had sales of just over £53m in its most recent accounts, and employs around 270 staff. Its offset printing setup includes three Mitsubishi Diamond 16pp six-colour web presses, and a ten-colour Koenig & Bauer Rapida 106 sheetfed press.

It also runs a raft of digital printing kit, most recently adding an HP high-speed inkjet web, alongside extensive personalisation, finishing and enclosing equipment.


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