The incident was contested by the Environment Agency, Lancashire County and Council and numerous public bodies, after an unauthorised water discharge activity left many residents having to leave homes due to odours coming from the local sewage network.

Tesco was fined a total of £8m, split into a £5m fine for the health and safety offence and a £3m fine for the environmental offence. The Environment Agency’s investigation into the incident found that Tesco had failed to address a “known issue” with part of a fuel delivery system. This, according to the Agency, was compounded by inadequate alarm systems and emergency response actions.

The Environment Agency’s environment manager Mark Easedale said: “This pollution incident had a dramatically negative impact on the local community and the environment with Langwood Brook and the River Irwell severely affected. A week after the pollution incident an investigation by Environment Agency officers found fish populations in the River Irwell immediately downstream of Langwood Brook were around 90% lower than those found upstream.

“The sentencing today sends out a clear message to anyone whose recklessness causes serious pollution to the environment – we will be relentless in our investigations and take action wherever needed.”

The incident, which took place between 2-3 July 2014, led to approximately 23,500 litres of petrol leaking from a filling tank at a Tesco-operated petrol station in Haslingden. Around 7,000 litres of petrol were recovered at the site, but the remainder seeped into the sewer system and nearby watercourse.

Samples taken from the river found traces of oil at least three miles downstream and more than 40 dead fish were found. Residents within a 1km radius from the station had to seek medical attention as a result of odours escaping from the sewers.

Breaching consequences

Tesco pleaded guilty to the offence under the Health and Safety at Work Act. Lancashire County Council criticised the response time to halting the leak, which took more than 24 hours.

Tesco was contacted by edie to provide comment, but at the time of publishing was yet to respond.

Earlier this year, drinks firm Heineken UK, food producer Filippo Berio and utility company Anglian Water Services were among six businesses that agreed to six-figure charity payments after breaching environmental laws.

Many of the six-figure payouts were in response to a failure to recycle or correctly dispose of waste. This backs up claims made by Scotland’s Environment Agency, which warned the country’s industries and farmers that their waste and inefficiency was now the biggest threat to the environment, overtaking pollution.

Matt Mace

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