IPC guidance falters as chemical industry review looms

The Environment Agency is way behind schedule in updating guidance notes for chemical processes subject to integrated pollution control (IPC) - threatening to derail the imminent review of the sector's authorisations. Meanwhile, the Agency now wants to revamp the format of the IPC guidance - including a return to setting deadlines for the upgrading or closure of existing processes.

The upheaval caused by the Agency's formation disrupted many of its constituent parts. One notable casualty was HM Inspectorate of Pollution's technical guidance branch, which lost most of its technical staff.

The rolling programme of reviewing IPC process guidance notes has now fallen way behind schedule. The Agency has not yet appointed consultants to prepare background reports on technical developments in the chemical sector, and ENDS understands that no funds have been set aside for the task.

The chemical industry accounts for more than half of the 2,100 processes authorised under IPC. Authorisations for existing chemical processes were issued from late 1993 in an exercise that threatened to overwhelm HMIP at a crucial stage of implementing the new IPC regime. Inevitably, many key decisions on upgrading requirements were not tackled rigorously when the authorisations were determined.

It is now unlikely that revised guidance notes will be ready before the sector's authorisations come up for the four-yearly review required by the Environmental Protection Act 1990. The lack of up-to-date guidance may jeopardise inspectors' efforts to promote the use of the "best available techniques not entailing excessive cost" (BATNEEC).

Much will depend on how far-reaching the Agency makes the review process. Don Munns, National Manager for IPC Regulatory Policy, told a conference at the Society for Chemical Industry in May that the Agency had "issued internal policy guidance to the field." He refused to release copies, but suggested that the four-yearly review need not be a comprehensive exercise, as "BATNEEC should have been covered by gradual improvement via the authorisation's improvement programme."

However, Mr Munns - who has inherited responsibility for the IPC process guidance - suggested that a significant change of direction can be expected in future notes. He described HMIP's initial approach, in which a deadline was set for the upgrading of existing processes to new plant standards, as "very successful".

More recent guidance notes have focused on "achievable releases" for new processes, leaving doubts over how far or how fast existing plants should be upgraded under HMIP's "site-specific" approach to determining BATNEEC. However, Mr Munns said, "as far as I'm concerned every guidance note should have a time limit in it. I want to go back to that."

Upgrading requirements for existing processes also look likely to become an issue in EC guidance notes for processes covered by the 1996 Directive on integrated pollution prevention and control (see p 39 ).

Mr Munns also signalled that future IPC guidance "will be looking much more closely" at setting targets for emissions per tonne of product, in a bid to encourage waste minimisation.

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