Major companies avoid court with £1.5m in charity payments

1st February 2017


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IEMA

Heineken, Tata Steel and Northumbrian Water are among 22 companies that over the past six months have paid a total £1.5m to charities after polluting rivers, breaching environmental permits and committing other environmental offences.

The Environment Agency said the payments, known as enforcement undertakings, generated swifter environmental benefits than court fines.

Northumbrian Water agreed the highest, £375,000 largely to local Rivers Trusts, for an incident in February 2015 in which raw sewage was pumped into a tributary of the Tyne. The sewage did not have a significant impact on fish life, but visibly polluted a watercourse near Prudhoe. The agency said it considered prosecution, but decided the enforcement undertaking ‘would achieve more [for the environment] than if the company had been convicted and fined’.

Most of the agreements, 13, are for packaging waste offences. Olive oil manufacturer Filippo Berio paid £253,906 to Herts & Middlesex Wildlife Trust for failing to register for the packaging waste regulations and recycle packaging as required. The National Exhibition Centre paid almost £15,000 to the Canal & River Trust for the same offences.

Some of the cases are significant. Heineken, for example, agreed to pay £160,000 to two charities for an incident at its Bulmers cider plant in Hereford in August 2014. Almost 3,000 fish died when a contractor emptied a container of ammonia-contaminated water into a surface water drain.

A spokesperson for Heineken pointed out that it was a contractor’s error, and added: ‘Since the incident, we have taken steps to tighten up our procedures and have carried out further training of colleagues and contractors to ensure that it will not happen again.’

However, an agency spokesperson said Heineken had ‘subsequent non-compliance issues’ and so had also agreed to spend £2.5m upgrading effluent monitoring equipment, treatment processes and drainage at the site.

Other notable cases include:

  • Anglian Water agreed three enforcement undertakings totaling £220,000. These include one for a 2014 incident that polluted a 6km stretch of brook near Corby, Northamptonshire, with raw sewage killing some 500 fish. The company had been aware of a serious problem at its works in Corby, but did not report it to the agency, which learned about it from members of the public.
  • Tata Steel paid £73,000 to improve a beck near its Scunthorpe works. In May 2015, lubricating oil s being drained form a tank at the site into another container overflowed, polluting the beck and wetland channels of a local nature reserve.

Stephen Trotter, director of the Wildlife Trusts in England, said: ‘The principle that a polluter should make amends for the damage they’ve caused makes good sense. We all depend on a healthy environment and this positive scheme allows some natural improvements to be funded which otherwise wouldn’t happen. Clearly it would be better if these incidents hadn’t happened in the first place, but at least something positive has come out of it.’

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