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DIRTY BUSINESS; The firms poisoning the Midlands.

Byline: EXCLUSIVE BY TOM WELLS

THESE are the filthy firms which have helped the Midlands top the pollution league of shame.

Shock Government figures released last week show how our region was the dirtiest in the country in 2003.

More than 40 Midland companies were prosecuted in a crackdown by the Environment Agency, with 15 fined nearly pounds 600,000 between them.

And today the Sunday Mercury can name and shame the big companies hidden at the heart of the report.

The list features oil giants Texaco, luxury car-makers Rolls Royce and water suppliers Severn Trent.

It also includes Rhodia - the Black Country firm at the centre of a Legionnaires disease outbreak which killed a Midland dad and left seven other victims seriously ill two years ago.

We can also reveal the catalogue of blunders made by rogue firms which have broken strict pollution laws.

They include:

Body parts left rotting in unrefrigerated lorries parked at a city tip;

An explosion which exposed villagers to a gas once used as a First World War weapon;

Acid leaks which killed fish and damaged other wildlife, and

Illegal dumping of lethal asbestos fibres known to cause cancer.

The Spotlight report is published annually by the Environment Agency and has been running for six years. It lifts the lid on businesses in England and Wales which break pollution laws and details the fines handed out to them.

Last year, a total of 266 companies were prosecuted by the Agency, including 42 from the Midlands - a sixth of the total figure.

But despite the lengthy roll-call of firms blatantly flouting the law, the average fine was a paltry pounds 8,400.

And our region was at the centre of an appalling core of cases which could have led to a series of environmental disasters.

Two companies - Cleansing Services Group Ltd and Eurocare Environmental Services Ltd - even managed to take first and second spot in the Agency's national league of shame for 2003.

Cleansing Services Group notched up a record pounds 250,000 fine - the largest-ever for a waste disposal firm following an Agency prosecution.

The company, which has a pounds 50 million turnover, was severely criticised after a fire and explosion at its site in Sandhurst, Gloucestershire, exposed villagers to toxic gas.

Locals had to be evacuated and some later fell ill after clouds of hydrogen chloride and phosgene were released into the atmosphere.

Phosgene was a chemical weapon commonly used in trench warfare during the First World War.

After inhaling it, soldiers would struggle for breath as the poison gas choked their lungs. Long-term effects of exposure include chronic bronchitis and emphysema.

Second in the table was Eurocare Environmental Services, a medical waste company which received a pounds 100,000 fine.

Stench

The firm left human remains, including placentas, in unrefrigerated, soft-sided lorries in car parks for up to five months.

In Birmingham, 16 lorries were found full of clinical waste at the Tyseley waste disposal site - a tip frequently used by families to get rid of their household rubbish.

When environmental officers raided the premises they found blood dripping from one container and a stench of rotting flesh.

Another high-profile offender was Rhodia Consumer Specialities Ltd, based at the old Albright and Wilson factory, in Oldbury in the Black Country.

Rhodia was at the centre of an outbreak of deadly Legionnaires disease in August 2002, which claimed the life of lorry driver Terry Beach.

The father-of-three died of a heart attack after being admitted to Sandwell General Hospital in West Bromwich, while seven other people were left seriously ill.

Rhodia were later cleared of any breach of any criminal offence by the Health & Safety Executive, despite positive samples of legionella bacteria being identified at their site.

But last year the company was prosecuted by the Environment Agency after an acid leak at the factory.

Highly-toxic polyphosphoric acid had leaked from a tank into the ground, potentially endangering nearby wildlife.

And despite discovering the problem, bosses failed to notify Agency experts until six days later.

Rhodia was eventually fined pounds 15,000.

Many of the firms targeted by the Agency were small companies, but the list of prosecutions also includes some of the biggest names in British business.

Texaco, which has a base in Nottingham, was fined pounds 10,000 after a leak left oil seeping into the River Trent.

The Agency later found the ageing pipe at the centre of the problem had not been inspected for five years - despite Texaco's astonishing global turnover of pounds 18 billion.

Elsewhere, Rolls Royce were fined just pounds 10,000 after 2,000 litres of red heating oil leaked from their Royal Ordnance Depot plant in Derby.

It quickly spread through nearly two miles of a nearby brook, killing local wildlife. Agency officers eventually had to call in the fire brigade to combat the spill because it was so severe.

Water company Severn Trent Ltd made up the trio of big-name scalps after it landed a pounds 2,000 penalty for allowing red gas oil to pollute a nearby stream.

Other firms fined included Nottingham-based LEEC Ltd and LEEC Developments Ltd, which were hit with a total of pounds 44,000 bill for illegally dumping asbestos.

And in Ledbury, Herefordshire, the Meadow Cheese Company Ltd persistently failed to register under waste disposal regulations and racked up a total pounds 19,000 fine. Last night, Chris Crean, of Friends of the Earth, blasted the 'out of sight, out of mind' culture of large companies.

'The Environment Agency should also have a go at those who sub-contract out their duties to third parties,' he said.

'We need fines that match the offences. Even the Agency acknowledges that they are too low at the moment.

'We also need to push for industry to use more recyclable materials so that less in manufacturing so that less waste is produced overall.'

MIDLAND LIST OF SHAME

AK Waste Management Ltd

All Clear Skip & Plant Hire Ltd

Building & Plumbing Supplies Ltd

Cleaning Service Group Ltd

Eurocare Environmental Services Ltd

Landowner Liquid Fertiliser Ltd

LEEC Developments Ltd

LEEC Ltd

Meadow Cheese Company Ltd

Rhodia Consumer Specialities Ltd

Rigidal Systems Ltd

Rolls Royce Ltd

Severn Trent Water Ltd

Smiths (Gloucester) Ltd

Texaco Ltd

(Firms fined for offences in the Midlands by the Environment Agency, 2003)

CAPTION(S):

DANGEROUS: needles found along with human remains left by Eurocare Environmental Services at the Tyseley waste disposal site FINED: Meadow Cheese Company Ltd DIRTY: AK Waste Management Ltd ASBESTOS: LEEC Developments Ltd POLLUTION: Texaco SHAME: Building & Plumbing Supplies Ltd TROUBLE: Smiths (Gloucester) Ltd DEATH: Rhodia was at the centre of a Legionnaires outbreak which killed Terry Beach, inset
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Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Aug 1, 2004
Words:1111
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