£133k fine for inadequate COMAH plan

15th May 2013

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  • Corporate fine



A Midlands engineering firm has been fined £133,000 after its emergency plans failed to prevent fire-fighting water and chemicals polluting the River Anker, killing 27,000 fish

In April 2010 a large fire broke out at Abbey Metal’s Nuneaton metal finishing works and in tackling the blaze a “cocktail of hazardous substances” was washed into the River Anker.

Birmingham Crown Court heard that the company’s emergency measures to contain firewater onsite were “inadequate” and that no plan had been made to access the sewerage system for emergency storage of contaminated water.

As a result, despite the fire service using pollution prevention equipment, water from the site containing cyanides, copper and cadium from metal treatment processes reached the river running along the back of the site.

Investigations by the Environment Agency confirmed that the chemicals polluted a 6km stretch of the river, killing around 27,000 fish.

The fire qualified as a major incident under the Control of Major Accident Hazards (COMAH) Regulations 1999, and the firm pleaded guilty to breaching regulation 4, which states that operators must “take all measures necessary to prevent major accidents and limit their consequences to persons and the environment”.

“The Environment Agency expects high standards from COMAH establishments. Where accidents are foreseeable, the operator must plan to prevent or mitigate them. This is what Abbey Metal failed to do,” commented an agency officer.

The company, which also pleaded guilty to three offences under the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2010, was fined £133,000 by Birmingham Crown Court and ordered to pay a further £33,000 in costs.

Abbey Metal, which supplies the defence and automotive sectors, has since completed the construction of a new finishing facility three miles from the Nuneaton site, and has achieved ISO 14001 certification for the facility.

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