A "HALL of shame" of Britain's dirtiest firms is published today by the Government's environment watchdog for England and Wales.
The "league table" includes some of the UK's biggest companies. ICI Chemicals, Shell UK and British Nuclear Fuels Limited (BNFL) feature in a long list of firms that were fined more than pounds 2m in total last year for pollution offences.
ICI tops the list largely because of a pounds 300,000 fine it incurred last March for polluting groundwater with almost 150 tonnes of chloroform in April 1997. The leak was discovered when a contractor spotted a 3ft-high fountain of the pollutant gushing from a broken filter in a pipe at the company's sprawling site in Runcorn, Cheshire.
The Environment Agency is now calling for much higher penalties to be imposed by the courts to cut down pollution.
Ed Gallagher, the agency's chief executive, said: "The average fine for a prosecution last year was pounds 2,786. Clearly this is not sending out a strong enough message to deter large businesses that have the potential to seriously damage the environment."
Waste management and water companies take up five of the top six places. The Environment Agency said the presence of two water companies in the top 10 reflected the high number of offences committed by the water and sewage industries.
ICI was also fined last year for releasing a metal-cleaning chemical that evaporated into the air and entered a nearby canal, and for a discharge at a site at Cleveland that sprayed across marshland and killed birds, fish and vegetation.
A spokesman said: "This is yesterday's news. It relates to already well-publicised events at three of our plants in 1997 where action to prevent recurrence has already been taken."
He added: "In the last three years ICI has reduced by a third the environmental impact of its legally permitted emissions at its plants in the UK, which number more than 40 plants, at a cost of over pounds 140m. The company is determined to continue this drive for improvement."
Shell UK, joint eighth in the list, was fined pounds 20,000 last year for polluting the Manchester Ship Canal with the equivalent of 10,500 household buckets of refined oil from the Stanlow Manufacturing Complex in Ellesmere Port. A spokesman for Shell said the company regretted the incident and had taken measures to ensure it never happened again.
BNFL was also fined pounds 20,000 last year because of a discharge from a site in Preston into the River Ribble in 1997. A spokesman said: "The discharge ... did not involve radioactive materials. While not excusing our failure on that occasion there was no evidence the offences ... had any detrimental effect on aquatic life."
Tyseley Waste Disposal was fined pounds 95,000 after the disappearance of radiactive material during demolition work at an incinerator plant in Birmingham. A spokesman said: "The old plant has been replaced by a modern `energy-from-waste' facility in which no radioactive sources are used. There is therefore no possibility such an event could happen again."
The highest pollution fine in Britain was pounds 1m, imposed on Shell UK after a massive oil pipeline leak polluted the Mersey estuary in 1989.
(Fines levied on firms)
1 ICI Chemicals, pounds 382,500
2 Tyseley Waste Disposal Ltd, pounds 95,500
3 London Waste Ltd, pounds 38,500
4 Wessex Water Ltd, pounds 36,500
5 Alco Waste Management, pounds 30,000
6 Anglian Water Services Ltd, pounds 24,250
7 EOM Construction Ltd, pounds 21,000
8 Shell (UK) Ltd, pounds 20,000
8 BNFL, pounds 20,000
10 Celtic Energy, pounds 18,000
10 European Vinyls Corporation Ltd, pounds 18,000
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