12 September 2013

Significant pollution incidents 2000–2012: report

The Environment Agency has published a report outlining the trends in numbers of serious and significant pollution incidents from 2000 to 2012.

Pollution incidents are caused by a loss of control. They lead to the release of hazardous substances into air, land or water and can cause significant harm to the environment. They can kill fish or damage sensitive wildlife sites and they affect people and communities, eg through poor air quality caused by a large fire.

Since 2000, the Agency has seen a 50% decrease in the total number of substantiated pollution incidents. In 2012, about 3% (617) of all reported pollution incidents in England and Wales were serious or significant in that they caused significant harm to people or the environment through air pollution, destruction of habitats or pollution of rivers. This amounts to about one serious or significant incident every 14 hours.

There are signs that the rate of decline in the number of pollution incidents is slowing, although in some business sectors, pollution incident numbers and risks appear to be rising, particularly in the waste sector.

This report concludes that:

  • serious and significant pollution incidents in England and Wales have halved since 2000 but there is evidence that the trend is levelling off

  • the Agency is determined to ensure that the number and impacts of incidents keep falling

  • three sectors — waste management, agriculture and the water and sewerage sector — continue to cause the most pollution incidents

  • waste-related incidents are increasing, particularly in relation to odour and newer technologies

  • pollution incidents harm businesses in terms of cost and reputation

  • it makes good sense for businesses to understand the risks of uncontrolled releases into the environment and invest in cost-effective risk-management measures

  • almost all pollution incidents are preventable through good design, housekeeping and maintenance

  • some pollution incidents are the result of third party actions including vandalism

  • Agency evidence is being used to help businesses reduce the number and impact of pollution incidents

  • work with partners and Agency attendance at incidents reduces the consequences for people and the environment.

Groundwater protection guidance issued

The Environment Agency has issued a new document on the principles and practice of groundwater protection.

The guidance document describes the Agency’s approach to the management and protection of groundwater in England and Wales. It provides a framework that takes account of the government’s sustainable development strategy and the water strategies of both the Defra and the Welsh Government.

GP3 Groundwater Protection: Principles and Practice sets out:

  • the Agency’s aims and objectives for groundwater

  • the technical approach to its management and protection

  • the Agency’s position and approach to the application of relevant legislation

  • the tools the Agency uses in relation to groundwater protection

  • technical guidance for groundwater specialists.

GP3 is intended to be used by anyone interested in groundwater and those whose activities may impact on groundwater or could do so. It will be updated as necessary.

Chemicals and poisons report

Public Health England has published the first Chemicals and Poisons Report compiled by the Centre for Radiation, Chemical and Environmental Hazards.

The report describes in a series of articles, the ongoing preparations for emergency situations — be they chemical accidents, deliberate attacks or extreme weather events.

For example, the Home Office describes its Initial Operational Response policy for blue light services responding to hazardous material incidents, which is being launched this month, and the Government Decontamination Service explains its work as a source of decontamination and recovery expertise. The public health impact of major incidents can be assessed by setting up a register of people affected by the incident, a concept which is introduced in a further article.

Chemicals and Poisons Report Issue 23 is available at www.gov.uk.