Cemex pollution fine reduced on appeal

The Court of Appeal has cut cement company Cemex’s £400,000 fine for a release of kiln dust to just £50,000. The fine was a record under the pollution prevention and control regime.

The pollution incident occurred in October 2005 and was caused by failures in plant maintenance (ENDS Report 381, pp 4-5 ). Staff found a cement kiln door hanging off its hinges and tried to force it shut. Cemex continued to operate the plant, despite knowing the door was not secure, causing a large amount of dust to escape through a gap.

The wind carried the hazardous dust for up to three miles and it settled on a residential area. However, there was no hard evidence of damage to health.

On 18 July, the Court of Appeal ruled that the fine was “disproportionate” in the absence of a fatality or injury, or deliberate failure by Cemex.

The Environment Agency said it was a “disappointing result” given the incident’s “gravity” and “environmental impact”. Nevertheless, it said it respected the decision. It called for sentencing guidelines to assist courts with environmental cases.

The Macrory report on penalties for environmental offences recommends that only the most serious cases go to court. Most non-compliance could be dealt with by the regulator through a system of administrative penalties (ENDS Report 383, pp 37-39 ).