Despite an overall decline in serious industrial pollution incidents – which have fallen to their lowest level for more than a decade – the EA has blamed “bad neighbours” businesses for causing negative impacts on people and the environment in their communities.

The EA’s ‘Sustainable Business Report’ revealed that an increasing number of companies are earning the highest ‘A’ excellence rating for environmental performance.

However, an increase in the number of biowaste facilities in the waste industry, which are new to regulation, and increased self-reporting of incidents by water companies have led to the rise in pollution figures.

The EA also put the figures down to illegal waste facilities, claiming that improved detection methods are being represented in the findings. Nearly 760 illegal waste sites were stopped in 2011 but the EA said improved detection methods by its recently-formed specialist Illegal Waste Sites Taskforce resulted in over 1,000 new sites being identified within the first three months of this year.

“These illegal sites pose risks to people and the environment and shutting them down is the Taskforce’s top priority,” the agency said.

According to the report, air pollution continues to be cut and it claims this has helped reduce the UK health bill by an estimated £630m since 2005.

To encourage environmental awareness, the Environment Agency cut regulatory costs for well-run businesses by £15m a year last year – a move that could save British businesses £45m a year against a 2010 baseline from 2015.

EA chairman, Lord Chris Smith, said the report showed that many businesses are recognising the value of sustainable growth, but more effective regulation of the impact businesses have on the environment and commitments from businesses themselves to act as “responsible neighbours” were needed.

He said: “Reassuringly, the latest performance record shows businesses are increasingly recognising there is a value and opportunity in this broader sense of responsibility.

“However, there’s no room for complacency as a minority of businesses are still bad neighbours – and the environmental impacts from their activities result in complaints from local communities. The Environment Agency will continue to work with businesses, Government and communities to tackle serious pollution and irresponsible business practice.”

The Environmental Services Association (ESA), a waste and resource management organisation, welcomed the report but warned that waste crime posed a real threat.

The ESA’s director of policy Matthew Farrow said: “The emphasis in the report on the Agency’s work to crack down on waste crime is welcome but ESA members remain deeply concerned at the extent of illegal waste management activity. These environmental criminals stop waste being managed in a controlled way and deliberately put society at risk.

“The continued rise in the number of active illegal waste sites identified by the Agency is alarming. While I understand the Agency’s argument that its extra efforts to tackle illegal activity means previously unidentified illegal sites are now counted, 2012 must be the year when the number of these sites starts going down not up.”

Conor McGlone

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