Waste company Veolia Environmental Services, who run a hazardous waste treatment facility in Bootle, Liverpool, has been fined £101,000 for an incident in April 2006 which caused the release of toxic fumes.
The fumes led to four members of staff receiving medical treatment, and several members of the public reporting side effects. The company has also been ordered to pay costs of £65,000.
Veolia breached a number of conditions of its waste management licence and pleaded guilty to eight charges brought against them in a joint prosecution by the Environment Agency (EA) and the Health and Safety Executive.
In April 2006, the site accepted waste, which it was not permitted to hold, and then stored this with a chemical substance. The resulting reaction caused toxic fumes to be released which affected members of staff and the public. The EA said the emergency plans which Veolia had in place were not followed, were inadequate, and hindered the emergency services.
EA investigating officer Mark Easedale said: This incident highlights the importance of ensuring correct procedures are followed to ensure there is no harm to the environment when hazardous waste is being handled. This was a serious incident which could easily have been avoided.
A Veolia spokeswoman said the firm regretted their involvement in this case. She said: As a company we have always taken our legal duties in respect of health and safety and our environmental responsibilities very seriously and we have maintained an excellent record of compliance of which we are justly proud. Our aim is to meet, and where feasible, to exceed the requirements set by regulators.
We consider any infringements to be wholly unacceptable and we recognise that in order to maintain these standards we must never be complacent. We have put in place new procedures to help prevent this type of incident being repeated in the future.
Health and Safety Executive inspector Daniel Longdon said: This prosecution should act as a warning to waste treatment operators. This was a totally avoidable incident had the proper procedures been in place and it was only through good fortune that the consequences were not more serious.