Updated: Industrial pollution at record low

13th November 2013

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Serious pollution incidents in England fell to a new low in 2012, as regulated sites continued to improve their environmental performance, confirms the Environment Agency

In its annual report on industrial emissions, pollution incidents and the performance of permitted sites, the regulator confirms it dealt with just 504 serious pollution events last year, down from 548 in 2011. The figure is the lowest on record, with the number of serious incidents falling 55% since 2000.

Just 38% of serious pollution incidents in 2012 were from permitted sites – down from 42% last year – and the regulator praised the water and sewage sector in particular for improving its performance. Following an increase in incidents in 2011, significant polluting events caused by England’s nine water companies fell by 47% year-on-year (from 115 to 61).

The agency warned, however, that serious pollution from the waste sector increased for the second year in a row, with the majority of incidents relating to odours from biowaste and landfill sites.

The 2012 figures also reveal that a record number of permitted sites are performing at the highest level of compliance, with 78% of environmental permit holders were rated as ‘A’ – up from 76% in 2011.

The figures reveal that there has been no improvement in the number of poorly performing organisations (those ranked D, E or F), however. The biowaste sector had the highest proportion of D, E and F ranked sites, followed by the metals industry and the waste storage, transfer and use sectors.

“Overall, the environmental performance of industry in England is good and continues to improve,” commented Paul Leinster, chief executive at the agency. “Serious pollution incidents have more than halved since 2000. It is good to see that 78% of sites scored an ‘A’ rating for environmental performance this year – the highest ever – even in difficult economic times.”

While serious pollution incidents were down, the agency’s figures reveal that industrial emissions of sulphur (SOx), nitrogen oxides (NOx) and particular matter (PM10) increased significantly in 2012.

The regulator cited the cold winter and high gas prices for an increase in coal-fired electricity generation, which saw SOx levels rise by 19% year-on-year, while emissions of NOx and PM10 increased by 13% and 14% respectively. In 2012, 40% of the UK’s electricity came from coal-powered plants, the highest since 1996.

Meanwhile, the first report on NIEA compliance and enforcement rates from the environment department in Northern Ireland confirms that compliance with industrial water orders stood at 91% in 2012/13 – a 4% increase since 2008/9.

The number of breaches related to protected sites has also fallen, down 57% on 2008/9 figures. However, the change may be explained by the new risk-based monitoring regime introduced in 2010/11, under which the percentage of sites inspected fell from 97% to just 28%.


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