Leigh convicted of false claims for waste solidification process

In an unprecedented case, waste management business Leigh Environmental has been fined £7,000 and told to pay costs of £72,500 after being convicted on seven charges under the Trade Descriptions Act 1968. The offences related to claims in a video advertising the firm's hazardous waste solidification process.

Leigh's video, "Waste Management for Tomorrow's World", featured a former presenter of the BBC's "Tomorrow's World" programme standing on an apparently solid deposit of "polymer" produced by Leigh's Sealosafe process. His footsteps are heard on the solid surface as he comments "I would hardly be standing here if it wasn't entirely safe".

The video was still being circulated by Leigh after an investigation by Harwell Laboratory had come to damning conclusions about the condition of Sealosafe polymer deposits at the firm's Aldridge site in the West Midlands.

Leigh had earlier claimed that the process could encapsulate a variety of hazardous wastes in a "synthetic rock which is safe, impermeable, non-polluting and non-leaching." But an extensive programme of tests by Harwell showed that much of the polymer failed to stand up to these claims. Much of the material, for example, proved too soft to be recoverable during a drilling exercise (ENDS Report 173, pp 8-9).

Walsall Metropolitan Borough Council, which commissioned Harwell's investigation, brought 14 charges against Leigh last year under the 1968 Act. Half were brought under section 14(1)(a), which makes it an offence knowingly to make a false statement about the nature of a service. The other seven were brought under section 14(1)(b), involving the less serious charge of recklessly making a false statement. The charges related to the production and distribution of the video in September 1989. One of the recipients was Harwell's library.

Hearings in the case began at Aldridge Magistrates Court last October. Leigh was eventually found guilty of the seven more serious charges of knowingly making false statements under section 14(1)(a). The company lodged an appeal in February. It is due to be heard at Wolverhampton Crown Court in September.

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