Revealed: UK's worst polluting companies

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An explosion that exposed a town to a gas used as a First World War weapon and a lorry of human body parts that dripped blood were among the worst examples of pollution in Britain last year, the Environment Agency reports today.

An explosion that exposed a town to a gas used as a First World War weapon and a lorry of human body parts that dripped blood were among the worst examples of pollution in Britain last year, the Environment Agency reports today.

Six companies' directors are named and shamed in its report. The roundup shows that waste management has become the largest source of fines and offences.

Among those punished last year was Kevin Deery, of Deery Construction in Muswell Hill, north London, who was fined £27,000 after it was discovered that he was illegally storing 160,000 cubic metres of waste - the equivalent of six Olympic-sized swimming pools - while licensed for only one-tenth of that. He was also illegally burning waste, and failing to prevent potential seepage from oil tanks near the company's London site. The company was fined £17,000.

Five other directors of waste management companies were fined amounts ranging from £20,000 to £560, the Environment Agency's Spotlight report says, highlighting a trend whereby outsourced waste management led to corner-cutting and risks to people and the environment.

"We suspect that when you start contracting out [waste-handling] the view of the risk gets more diluted the further down the chain you go," a spokeswoman said. "We have been urging companies to be clear about where waste is going, but the problem is that waste management is becoming expensive: you can't keep putting it in a hole in the ground."

Barbara Young, chief executive, said: "Company directors and sole traders who try to increase profits at the expense of the environment should take note that a fine or a criminal record could be on the cards."

Despite struggling for funds to pursue offenders, the agency reports a number of legal successes in the past year. The biggest fine, of £232,000, was meted out to Cleaning Service Group for storing volatile chemicals in a store near Sandhurst, Gloucestershire. A fire in December 2000 led to the release of phosgene (as used in First World War weapons) and poisonous hydrogen chloride.

Another company, Eurocare, which provides waste management to the NHS, was fined £100,000 - and ordered to pay more than £110,000 in costs - after it was found to be using unrefrigerated lorries to store human tissue, used dressings and syringes.

Of the 61 companies fined £10,000 or more, 19 were from the waste sector, well ahead of the eight water companies that formed the next largest group.

Greenpeace said that the problem was a natural consequence of the tendency towards outsourcing, and said a new approach was needed. "This Government has shown on several occasions that waste is one of those 'out of sight, out of mind' issues for it," it said. "We should have different ways of doing this so that waste companies recover value from things that we shouldn't be getting rid of in the first place. But the Government is keen to find the cheapest way to get waste out of sight, so it pushes for incinerators and outsourcing."

Overall, the agency's report showed that the number of pollution incidents from industry in 2003 fell by 12 per cent compared with 2002, and by 43 per cent over two years.

THE MAIN OFFENDERS

POISONOUS GAS The Cleansing Service Group stored volatile chemicals and liquids from a laboratory contaminated with BSE, at a site near Sandhurst in Gloucestershire. A fire led to explosions which released mustard gas and poisonous hydrogen chloride. Fined: £232,000

MEDICAL WASTE Eurocare Environmental Services, an NHS subcontractor, stored human body parts, dirty swabs and syringes in an unrefrigerated lorry. Investigators found blood oozing from one trailer; another had clinical waste up to five months old. Fined: £100,000

SEWAGE Southern Water Services polluted Lambden Farm Lake in Pluckley, Kent, causing high levels of ammonia that killed fish. The sewage came from a broken main - for the fifth time in 19 months. Fined: £70,700

Thames Water Utilities let raw sewage flow into Arford stream, Hampshire, and three lakes, killing all the fish. Contractors attended alarms at the site but failed to act on them. The incident was "completely avoidable". The company had to pay £48,000 to restock the fish. Fined: £60,000

OIL POLLUTION European Metal Recycling sporadically polluted two brooks near Swindon with oil. An investigation discovered the problems, which were traced back to poor maintenance and bad drains. Fined: £50,000

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