Blackburn paper mill hit with heavy fine for water pollution

The Environment Agency has successfully prosecuted Sappi UK, for the pollution of three rivers in East Lancashire. The rivers were polluted by a chemical leak from Sappi's Blackburn paper mill in January 1998.

Hearing the case, Andrew Edis QC said that he took “a very dim view indeed to the efforts to mislead the Environment Agency’s employees which appear to have been made in the early stages of the investigation”. Edis ordered Sappi UK to pay a £17,500 fine and to pay the full costs of the prosecution brought by the EA. The total amount owed by Sappi UK is £51,944.79.

Commenting on the Blackburn Mill’s fifth pollution conviction, mill director Jan Willem Merkx told edie that the EA will not be obstructed in any future investigations. “We have had several convictions in recent years. Most of them are related to water. I do not want to comment on the present case, but as a general rule it is our strong opinion that there has to be co-operation. If this has not been the case in the past it is regrettable.”

Merkx confirmed that plans exist to apply for ISO 14001 certification for the Blackburn Mill, a certification that requires environmental management systems to be put in place. “ISO 14001 will help us, but some things are not able to be avoided by such management systems,” said Merkx.

The pollution incident involved a pipe that leaked Chemisolv, a substance used to bind materials in trade effluent, into the River Roddlesworth. The leak also affected the Rivers Darwen and Ribble.

Although the leak was discovered by a mill employee, the company failed to alert the EA and it was a member of the public who let the Agency know.

Approximately 10,000 fish died following the incident, but the EA was unable to prove that the deaths were directly attributable to the Chemisolv leak.

Sappi UK is a division of the multinational paper company, Sappi, based in South Africa. According to Sappi’s environmental statement, the company “has an ongoing investment programme which focuses on the implementation of recognised environmental management systems throughout the company, and on-going technological investment for the reduction of air emissions, treatment of waste water and disposal of solid waste”. According to the statement, five of Sappi’s seven European mills have already achieved ISO 14001 certification. The Blackburn Mill is one of two that have not.

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