Monday, March 22, 1999 Published at 07:56 GMT
Polluters in 'hall of shame'
ICI's factories illegally released chemicals into water
The government's pollution watchdog has published a list of the dirtiest companies in England and Wales.
The Environment Agency wants the list to draw attention to what it says are inadequate fines being handed down by the courts.
"Tough action by the Environment Agency in the field needs to be matched by tougher penalties," said its chief executive Ed Gallagher.
"The average fine for a prosecution last year was £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."
During 1998, the agency took out a total of 744 prosecutions resulting in total fines of just over £2m.
ICI paid almost a fifth of that figure, more than the next four biggest payers put together.
The company accidentally released nearly 150 tonnes of chloroform into groundwater and the atmosphere - the equivalent of around 11,000 household buckets full of the chemical.
ICI was also fined for a release of trichloroethylene, and for releasing naphtha into a marshland near Middlesbrough, killing fish, birds, and vegetation.
ICI rejected the the list as "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," said the company.
The firm added that it had spent £140m in the last three years reducing by a third the impact of 40 legally-permitted emissions.
The agency's director of operations Archie Robertson said ICI, and the other firms had each "let down the public, the environment and their own industry".
What a waste
He also expressed concern that after ICI three of the next four on the list were waste disposal firms.
"Businesses in the waste management sector should be well aware of pollution issues," he said.
"After all, they are meant to be there to clean up the environment."
But Graham Setterfield from Water UK, which represents the companies, said: "No one has more contact with the aquatic environment in its day-to-day activities than we do," he said.
"Our overall record in preventing pollution in our rivers and coastal waters over the last few years is one of sustained and progressive improvement."
'Top marks' from FoE
Friends of the Earth's senior pollution campaigner Mike Childs gave the government agency "top marks for naming and shaming the worst polluters".
But he called on the courts to levy more than the current "pitiful" fines.
"It's time for environmental crimes to be heavily punished," he said.
"The courts must get their act together and levy fines which really make polluters feel a sharp pain in their wallets."