Serious industrial pollution incidents from regulated sites have fallen to their lowest level for over a decade, the Environment Agency has announced
At the same time, pollution events in the water and waste sectors, the largest permitted sectors, increased last year.
The latest sustainable business report from the environment regulator for England and Wales reveals there were 620 serious pollution episodes in 2011, 4% fewer than in 2010. Since 2000, serious pollution events have fallen by 52%, it says. However, 2011 also saw an 11% year-on-year increase in serious pollution incidents across all sectors, including the water and waste industries and sites not regulated by the agency.
Water company assets caused 120 serious pollution events in 2011 – half of which were from sites regulated by the agency. This is almost double the amount in 2010 (65 episodes) and the same number as recorded in 2000. Meanwhile, companies involved in waste activities caused 101 serious pollution incidents in 2011, up from 75 in 2010. And more than 40% of those linked to waste companies in 2011 were from sites regulated by the EA.
The agency says the relatively poor performance of the water and waste sectors is due to a rise last year in the number of biowaste facilities, which are new to regulation, and an increase in the number of water companies self-reporting pollution events.
More companies are achieving the highest A excellence rating for environmental performance, while the number receiving the lowest ratings (D, E and F) continues to fall, says the report. Overall, 10,439 permits in 2011 were rated A, and only 471 permits were rated D, E or F.
The agency has also confirmed that it is moving to an assurance-based approach for better-performing sites, allowing high-performing operators with environment management systems to certify their own compliance by using independent audits, reducing inspections and charges accordingly. The approach will be trialled at more than 30 sites over the next 12–18 months.
Commenting on the findings, Chris Smith, chair of the agency, said: “Achieving both economic growth and the protection of the natural environment is not always easy but can be achieved. It will not happen without effective regulation of the impact business has on the environment and a commitment from businesses themselves to act as responsible neighbours and good corporate citizens.”