Tesco has been fined £8m fine after a massive fuel leak at one its petrol stations polluted a Lancashire river, killing fish and forcing those living nearby to leave their homes.
It is the largest fine for a single incident of pollution and is second only to the £20m in fines and costs Thames Water was ordered to pay in March which related to multiple offences.
According to the Environment Agency, 23,500 litres (5170 gallons) of petrol escaped from a tank at the Tesco filling station in Haslingden over a two day period in July 2014. The fuel entered the sewerage system with the pungent odour affecting residents living up to 0.6 miles (1km) away, causing people to seek medical attention with headaches and sickness.
“This pollution incident had a dramatically negative impact on the local community and the environment with Langwood brook and the river Irwell severely affected,” said Mark Easedale, an environment manager for the Environment Agency. A week later EA officers investigating the incident found that the fish population immediately downstream was arbout 90% lower than those found upstream, Easedale said.
“The sentencing today sends out a clear message to anyone whose recklessness causes serious pollution to the environment – we will be relentless in our investigations and take action wherever needed,” he added.
Samples taken from the Irwell detected oil up to three miles downstream with anglers reporting dead fish in Bury, more than six miles away.
“This was a major leak of fuel in a relatively built-up area and close to a busy superstore,” said Albert Atkinson, the deputy leader of Lancashire county council. “The potential consequences are only too obvious.”
Tesco, which admitted responsibility for the incident, was fined £5m for the health and safety offence and £3m for the environmental offence at Preston crown court. The company was also ordered to pay more than £57,000 to cover the legal costs of the Environment Agency and Lancashire county council.
The investigation found Tesco’s failure to fix a known issue with the fuel delivery system, coupled with poor emergency procedures, caused the incident.
A spokesman for the supermarket chain said: “We sincerely regret the fuel spillage incident at our petrol station in Haslingden and we’re sorry for the impact it had on the local environment, our customers and the community. This was a deeply unfortunate isolated incident and one for which we have taken full responsibility.
“Following the incident, we have inspected all relevant petrol stations, introduced a new real-time monitoring system and made a number of further improvements to protect against similar incidents happening again.”