Abbey Metals fined more than £130,000 for river pollution after fire

Abbey Metals Limited has been ordered to pay a £133,000 fine and £33,000 in costs for polluting the River Anker, following a fire at one of its operating sites in Nuneaton, Warwickshire.

The aerospace and industrial surface treatments provider was sentenced at Birmingham Crown Court on a charge of failing to take measures to prevent major accidents and limit its consequences to the environment.

According to the Environment Agency (EA), it had earlier pleaded guilty at Nuneaton Magistrates’ Court.

The company also pleaded guilty to three other charges under the Environmental Permitting Regulations 2010, which included breaches of its environmental permit around failing to prevent emissions of contaminated firewater, and failing to meet Environmental Quality Standards for cyanides, copper and cadmium in the River Anker.

Backing onto the River Anker, the company operated a metal finishing operation at Weddington Road in Nuneaton, where a large fire broke out at the premises in April 2010.

Despite the best efforts of the fire service, using pollution prevention equipment supplied by the EA, much of the water used to combat the fire entered the river. The EA said the water was contaminated with a “cocktail of hazardous substances” used in metal treatment.

This incident was a ‘Major Accident’ under the Control Of Major Accident Hazards (COMAH) regulations and required notification to the European Commission.

According to the EA, the emergency plan had failed as there were inadequate arrangements on site to contain the firewater, and no prior arrangements to access the sewerage system for emergency storage or tanker contaminated water off site.

Speaking after the case, an EA officer in charge of the investigation said: “The Competent Authority expects high standards from COMAH establishments. Where accidents are foreseeable, the operator must plan to prevent or mitigate them. This is what Abbey Metal failed to do.”

In mitigation, the court was told that the company had co-operated fully and had entered an early guilty plea. They had since put measures in place to ensure that this situation could not reoccur.

Leigh Stringer

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