Abbey Metals Limited was sentenced at Birmingham Crown Court on a charge of failing to take measures to prevent major accidents and limit their consequences to the environment. They had earlier pleaded guilty at Nuneaton Magistrates' Court.
The company was ordered to pay a £133,000 fine and £33,000 in costs, along with a £15 victim surcharge.
The charge was brought by the Environment Agency as part of the Competent Authority under Regulation 4 of the Control of Major Accident Hazards (COMAH) Regulations 1999.
The company also pleaded guilty to 3 other charges under the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2010. These were breaches of their environmental permit around failing to prevent emissions of contaminated firewater, and failing to meet Environmental Quality Standards for cyanides, copper and cadmium in the River Anker. The company operated a metal finishing operation at Weddington Road in Nuneaton. This site backed onto the River Anker.
Combatting a 'Major Accident'
On 22 April 2010, a large fire broke out at the premises. Fire crews attended and used a considerable amount of water to fight the fire. Despite the best efforts of the fire service, using pollution prevention equipment supplied by the Environment Agency, much of this water entered the river. It was contaminated with a cocktail of hazardous substances used in metal treatment.
Samples carried out by Environment Agency officers showed that pollution was present which resulted in approximately 27,000 fish deaths along a 6km stretch of river. After the incident, large numbers of dead fish were visible floating down the river, and live fish were seen to be irritated to the point of jumping out of the water onto the banks.
This incident was a 'Major Accident' under the COMAH regulations and required notification to the European Commission. The emergency plan had failed as there were inadequate arrangements on site to contain the firewater, and no prior arrangements to access the sewerage system for emergency storage or tanker contaminated water off site.
Speaking after the case, an Environment Agency officer in charge of the investigation said:
"The Competent Authority expects high standards from COMAH establishments. Where accidents are foreseeable, the operator must plan to prevent or mitigate them. This is what Abbey Metal failed to do."In mitigation, the court was told that the company had co-operated fully and had entered an early guilty plea. They had since put measures in place to ensure that this situation could not reoccur.