Thornton companies ordered to pay £80k after chemical spill that could have contaminated River Wyre

Two Thornton-based companies have been handed a huge fine by the Environment Agency after they accidentally overfilled chemical tanks, causing a chemical spillage that could have contaminated a nearby river.

Thursday, 27th May 2021, 12:30 pm
Updated Thursday, 27th May 2021, 2:46 pm
The River Wyre estuary
The River Wyre estuary

Thornton-based Victrex Manufacturing Ltd and Veolia Energy and Utility Services UK must pay a combined £80,000 to Wyre Rivers Trust and Lancashire Wildlife Trust following the chemical spillage in July 2018.

Victrex, a plastic manufacturer, currently operates under a permit issued by the Environment Agency The boiler house associated with the manufacturing process is operated by Veolio UK.

An investigation carried out by the Environment Agency revealed that permit conditions were breached when two chemical tanks containing Hydrochloric Acid and Sodium Hydroxide, located in the boiler house, were overfilled and both secondary and tertiary containment systems failed to prevent the chemicals leaking to the ground, which without intervention would have contaminated the River Wyre.

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The investigation found that although the facility had many safety systems and control measures, these had been inadvertently disabled by a technician in an attempt to resolve another problem. The technician then failed to respond to subsequent alarms, mistakenly interpreting them as false.

A number of hours later, the spillage was discovered by another member of staff.

This was cleaned up by specialist contractors, however, several days later contamination was identified in groundwater nearby.

Victrex appointed a consultant to investigate and implement a strategy to eliminate the problem, which satisfied the requirements of technical experts within the Environment Agency.

A network of boreholes were installed around the contaminated area and the groundwater from the upper layers was collected and sent for treatment. This continued until December 2019 when the Environment Agency groundwater specialists were satisfied that the pollution had been minimised and that an appropriate monitoring process had been put in place.

John Neville, Lancashire environment manager for the Environment Agency, said: "The Environment Agency has closely monitored the clean-up and remediation and is satisfied that there has been no lasting damage from this incident."