Agency sees drop in fines for pollution offences

Prosecutions for offences under integrated pollution control (IPC), air pollution and radioactive substances legislation declined slightly during the Environment Agency's first year. The average fine per case showed a sharper drop.

The Agency assumed responsibility for industrial pollution control from HM Inspectorate of Pollution (HMIP) in April 1996. The latest enforcement data released by the Agency, complete until 31 March this year, show that 13 cases were brought to court during its first year - equal to the lowest number taken by HMIP in the previous four years (see table ).

Most of the cases brought during 1996-97 have already been reported. The most notable included a prosecution of Bradford wool processors Woolcombers for discharges of HCH to sewer (ENDS Reports 243, pp 7-8  and 256, p 46 ). Wool scouring processes were not regulated under IPC at the time of the incident and the case was taken under the Water Industry Act 1991. Woolcombers was fined £16,000 on four charges.

Rhone-Poulenc was hit by the year's largest fine, £50,000, for a release of acid fumes from its Staveley works in Derbyshire (ENDS Report 258, p 46 ).

Other firms prosecuted under the 1990 Act include Flexsys Rubber Chemicals and Harcros subsidiary Durham Chemicals (ENDS Report 261, p 48 ), Castle Cement (ENDS Report 262, p 45 ), ReChem International (ENDS Report 264, p 46 ) and ICI Chemicals and Polymers (ENDS Report 266, p 51 ).

Five of the year's 13 cases were brought under the Radioactive Substances Act 1993. The remainder were all taken under the 1990 Act with the exception of the Woolcombers case and another brought under the pre-IPC air pollution legislation in the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (ENDS Report 257, pp 47-48 ).

The average fine per case rose consistently during HMIP's reign but the Agency's takeover coincided with a drop from £23,900 to £12,384 in 1996-97 (see table). Even if the exceptional fine of £150,000 against Coalite in February 1996 is excluded, the previous year's average falls to £14,892, still significantly above the 1996-97 average.

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