Continuing pollution by businesses is marring environmental gains, says EA

The Environment Agency’s (EA) figures for industrial pollution during 1999, published on 26 July, show that although environmental regulation is cutting thousands of tonnes of damaging emissions, the continuing pollution by businesses across England and Wales is marring environmental gains.

Spotlight on business environmental performance – 1999, reports on good and poor performance by businesses in England and Wales last year, and highlights dramatic reductions in polluting emissions from power stations, metal production and processing, and from the chemical and minerals industries, says the EA.

At the same time, however, the report shows that the EA prosecuted over 500 companies and individuals for serious pollution offences which left the public and the environment exposed to dangers such as asbestos, chemical gas clouds and raw sewage.

The most frequent offenders were the big water and sewage companies, says the EA, with Thames Water Utilities Limited being prosecuted by the EA on eight separate occasions in 1999.

“In 1999, for the first time, a company director was disqualified for an environmental offence,” said Sir John Harman, EA Chairman. “Seven more directors were held personally responsible for pollution offences, convicted, and fined by the courts. If that is what it takes to get the health of the public and the environment taken seriously in the Boardroom then I hope the courts will exercise that sanction more often in the future.”

“However, the Agency continues to be disappointed about the overall level of fines imposed on companies once they have been found guilty of an environmental crime,” continued Harman. “In 1999 the average level of fines imposed overall was £3 500, a slight increase over the 1998 average of £2,768. The Environment Agency believes this minimal increase in the current average level of fines still does not reflect the long-term damage and strain forced on our precious environment through criminal neglect.”

Friends of the Earth (FoE) complain that the EA have made the report far too complex, making it “meaningless to everyone except a few boffins”. The EA, they say, has failed to provide health information, nor have they produced sufficient league tables.

“Michael Meacher has fought hard to meet Labour’s Election promise to give people a decent right to know what pollution is released into their area, “said Mike Childs, Factory Watch Campaigner at Friends of the Earth. “Unfortunately, the Environment Agency is letting him down badly by releasing pollution data in a way that is about as meaningful to most people as the Albanian telephone directory. Friends of the Earth is committed to providing this information in a way that is meaningful and understandable to people, such as league tables with health information.”

Among the worst offending companies, say FoE, are Associated Octel, ICI, and Glaxo Wellcome, who between them emitted a total of over 6400 tonnes of cancer-causing chemicals into the air. In general, however, the data shows that emissions of such chemicals had decreased from 1998.

“Our first analysis of the data shows that thousands of tonnes of cancer-causing chemicals are being released by Britain’s biggest factories and although pollution levels are down, the quantity of pollution pouring into people’s neighbourhoods and homes is still worryingly high,” said Childs. “It’s high time the Environment Agency got its act together, told the people the truth about pollution in simple terms, and cracked down on the worst offenders.”

Hard copies of the report are available from the EA general enquiries, 0845 933 3111.

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