ICI called to account over marsh acid leak

UK Environment Minister on 24 February 1999 summoned senior managers from ICI and its subsidiary Tioxide Europe to explain the leak of hydrochloric acid on protected marshland in North East England.

Hydrochloric acid leaked onto the marshland near Seal Sands, Teesside, from Tioxide Europe’s Greatham Works on February 17. The leak was described by Environment Protection Officers as one of the worst incidents they had attended.

“I want to underline my concern at damage done to a nationally important wetland site. This is the latest in a series of serious environmental incidents involving ICI and it is not acceptable,” said Meacher.

“Although it is clearly too early to say whether prosecution would be appropriate over this incident, I am concerned that very serious consequences can often flow from breaches of authorisations. I have therefore made it very clear to the Environment Agency (EA) that I want to see it continue to use prosecution vigorously to deter bad environmental practice. I also want to see the courts making fuller use of the heavy fines available in such circumstances.”

The land, owned by Tioxide Europe, was designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) within the last 12 months and attracts many species of birds, which feed on the wildlife in the marshland mud.

On February 17, Tioxide personnel detected the acid leaking from a plant process drain into a site storm water discharge and onto the adjacent Grenabella Marsh which forms part of the Tees and Hartlepool Foreshore and Wetlands SSSI.

The EA acknowledges that ICI took quick action to mitigate potential damage, but says the incident breached the authorisation issued to Tioxide under the UK’s Integrated Pollution Control (IPC) regime.

The Agency has served a notice prohibiting the use of the process drain until satisfactory repairs were made. The EA and English Nature say they are working with Tioxide to flush the contaminated water from the marshland.

Environment Protection Officer Steve Hardy said: “It is one of the worst incidents I have attended. It is believed that about half of the 70,000 square metres of marshland has been affected. Our only option is to dilute with sea water. It was as acidic as you can get.”

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