Half UK pollution traced to one plant

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The Independent Online
OFFICIAL FIGURES show that Britain's most heavily polluting factories are still spewing more than 10,000 tonnes of cancer-causing chemicals every year, Friends of the Earth claims today.

Nearly half is coming from just one plant, that of Associated Octel which produces lead additives for motor fuel at Ellesmere Port, Merseyside, the environmental group says. The ICI chemical plants at Runcorn and Teesside, and Glaxo Wellcome's antibiotics plant at Ulverston, Cumbria, are the next worst offenders, FoE says.

It bases its claim on pollution figures for 1998, which are available in the Environment Agency's Pollution Inventory, a public database of factory emissions to be launched today by Michael Meacher, Environment minister. FoE has analysed the emissions for cancer-causing substances, using the international scientific literature in each case to categorise the chemicals concerned as carcinogenic.

Its move threatens to overshadow today's launch of the inventory, which is regarded as a major step forward in making environmental information public. Containing details of 150 different pollutants from about 2,000 of the largest industrial processes in England and Wales, it is available on the Environment Agency's Internet web site. The information allows people to find out about major pollution in their area by typing in their postcode.

The agency stresses in its own announcement that the inventory illustrates the big reductions that have been made in pollution over recent years. Emissions of lead, benzene and particulates from large industrial sites have more than halved over the last decade, it says. Dr Paul Leinster, the agency's Director of Environmental Protection, said that it shows "great strides" have been made. "Obviously there is still a long way to go," he said.

FoE claims the data show that the chemicals still being released contain large amounts of cancer-causing substances. In February, the group analysed the emission figures for 1996 and claimed that more than 12,300 tonnes of carcinogens had been released that year. A preliminary analysis of last year's figures, they say, shows that at least 10,871 tonnes of five principal recognised carcinogens are still being emitted, ranging from 4,023 tonnes of chloroethane to 397 tonnes of vinyl chloride. Associated Octel's Ellesmere Port plant, which manufactures tertraethyl lead, a petrol additive being completely phased out in Europe because of health risks but still in use in developing countries, emits the largest total, as it did in 1996, the group claims. Then, FoE says, it emitted 5,340 tonnes of carcinogens. Last year it emitted 4,090 tonnes, the group claims, composed of chloroethane, lead, and dichloroethane. The company had no comment last night.

ICI was the next worst offender, the group says, emitting 4,383 tonnes of carcinogens from its three plants at Runcorn, Redcar amd North Tees, while Glaxo Wellcome at Ulverston released at least 992 tonnes of cancer- causing substances.

ICI said last night it had spent more than pounds 140m on environmental improvement since 1995 in the UK alone.