Pollution Prevention Pays

Incidents such as spills, accidents, negligence and vandalism happen every day. All industrial and commercial sites have the potential to damage the environment, and both human health and habitats can be harmed.

Based on 2013 guidance from the Environmental Agency (EA), Environmental Consultant Mubin Chowdhury discusses general pollution prevention from industrial and commercial premises. pollution-prevention-pays2

Definition of Pollution

Pollution is defined as pollution of the environment due to the release of substances from any process which are capable of causing harm to humans or any other living organisms. The environment includes all media such as land, air and water.

Harm means harm to health of living organisms or other interference with their ecological systems. In the case of humans, it includes offence caused to any of his senses or harm to property.

Legislation and Costs

You will breach many laws if pollution is caused or allowed. For example,  the Environmental Protection Act 1990, Environment Act 1995, Environmental Permitting Regulations 2010 and 2013, Environmental Damage (Prevention and Remediation) Regulations 2009 and so on.

Civil sanctions can be used by the EA and other enforcement bodies as an alternative to court cases.

In addition, if you are a serious offender you can be prosecuted through the courts. The lower Magistrates’ Courts can impose fines up to £50,000 for pollution offences. If a case goes to Crown Court, there is no limit to the fine. Imprisonment is also possible. As the polluter you would have to pay clean-up and court costs as well.

A pollution incident costs an average of £30,000 for businesses in fines, clean-up charges and production losses.  Additionally, remediation costs (e.g. fish restocking, removing contaminated land or cleaning up groundwater) can cost tens of thousands or even millions of pounds. Specialist environmental liability insurance may be required to cover the cost.

The effects of an incident also go beyond direct financial fines and costs. They can include:  pollution-prevention-pays-law1

  • Damage to your business reputation and the ability to win or keep contracts
  • Loss or damage to materials and assets and
  • Interruption to your daily business. 

Further Benefits

Preventing pollution is good environmental practice and can be part of your sustainable business planning. Apart from avoiding pollution clean-up costs, higher insurance premiums, enforcement action and fines, it can also help you:

  • Gain a competitive business advantage
  • Maintain business reputation and project a positive social image
  • Avoid negative publicity that surrounds a pollution incident
  • Reduce operating costs, including waste-disposal costs
  • Not lose valuable materials 

How to make your site right?

For environmental protection, it is useful if you address the following questions and implement actions from it:

  • Site drainage – a good knowledge of all the drainage systems on your site is basic to preventing pollution. Only clean water, such as roof drainage should go to surface water drains. All contaminated water, such as sewage and trade effluent must go to foul drains. So do you know where your drains go and which are foul and surface water drains? Do you have an up to date drainage plan of your site? Make sure your site drainage plan includes trade effluent drains, gullies and discharge points.
  • Deliveries and handling materials – delivering and handling materials, such as oils, chemicals and food stuffs, around your site is always a high-risk activity. Good working practices are essential. Do you have procedures for safe delivery and handling of materials?
  • Storage – poor storage of oils, chemicals and other materials is a major risk to the environment. Are storage containers fit for purpose, regularly inspected and maintained? Are storage areas and containers sited away from watercourses, surface water drains and un-surfaced areas? Do storage containers have secondary containment, such as a bund, to contain any leaks or spills?
  • Managing waste – you should use resources carefully and reduce the amount of waste produced to save money and resources. Legally storing and disposing of waste is an essential measure to preventing pollution. Are you reducing and recycling your waste? Is your storage and handling of waste safe and comply with the law? Do you know where your waste goes? Can you prove it is disposed of correctly in line with the Waste Duty of Care?
  • Trade effluent – this means any liquid effluents produced by a commercial or industrial process. Examples include compressor blow down, dirty water from washing and cleaning and air-conditioning condensates. Make sure all your treatment plants, including storage vessels and chemical storage areas, are isolated from surface water drains. Put management systems in place to maintain treatment plants and trade effluent drainage systems. Check them regularly for leaks. All your trade effluents must be correctly connected to the foul sewer. Have you reduced the volume of trade effluent you produce? Is effluent discharged to public foul sewers with the permission of the sewerage provider and a written ‘consent to discharge’? Otherwise, do you have a permit from the EA for any treated trade effluent discharges to the environment?
  • Protecting groundwater – groundwater is fresh underground water contained in rocks. Large rock beds form aquifers. As a supply of drinking water, groundwater must be protected from pollution. You must make sure you allow only clean uncontaminated rainwater to discharge to soakaways. Do you know if your site is in a sensitive groundwater area?  Do your management procedures prevent pollutants like oils and chemicals from being disposed of onto the ground?
  • Training, emergency planning and response – effective emergency response comes from good planning and training. This plays a crucial role in protecting the environment. Trained and knowledgeable staff can help prevent or reduce the effects of a pollution incident saving both money and time. Do you have a plan, equipment and training to deal with pollution and fire emergencies which is regularly tested? Does your incident response plan include groundwater protection?

pollution-prevention-pays-law2 So by taking environmental responsibilities seriously, your business can benefit in many ways.


1) Pollution prevention pays, Environment Agency (January 2013)

2) Based on definition in the Environmental Protection Act 1990

3) Is your site right? Environment Agency (August 2012)


Disclaimer: The information provided through Legislation Watch is for general guidance only and is not legal advice. Legislation Watch is not a substitute for Health and Safety consultancy. You should seek independent advice about any legal matter.

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