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UK: Grocery Store Fined over US$11 Million for Gasoline Discharge

(July 11, 2017) Tesco Stores Ltd, a large chain of grocery stores and gas stations in the United Kingdom, was fined £8 million (about US$11 million) for a large-scale pollution event in Lancashire after 23,500 liters (about 6,200 gallons) of gasoline leaked from a filling tank over a period of 29 hours at a petrol station.  Of the leaked amount, 7,000 liters (about 1,849 gallons) were recovered at the site; the remainder entered the sewage system and local waterways.  Gasoline in the sewage system affected residents from three-quarters of a mile away, causing homes to temporarily become inhabitable due to the smell and causing a number of people to need medical attention.  Once the gasoline entered the streams and rivers, it caused significant environmental damage, resulting in the death of fish and aquatic life.  (Miles Dilworth, Tesco Fined £8m for ‘Recklessly’ Polluting River with Thousands of Litres of Petrol, INDEPENDENT (London) (June 16, 2017).)

The Environment Agency and the local county council where the store was located worked together and brought a joint case that was heard in the local Crown Court. Tesco Stores Ltd pleaded guilty to causing a water discharge activity not authorized by an environmental permit, contrary to Regulation 12(1)(b) and 38(1)(a) of the Environmental Permitting (England & Wales) Regulations 2010.  (Environmental Permitting (England & Wales) Regulations 2010, SI [Statutory Instruments] 2010/675, LEGISLATION.GOV.UK; Dilworth, supra.)  Tesco Stores Ltd also pleaded guilty to a count of failing to take general safety measures under regulation 6(8) of the Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmospheres Regulations 2002 and contrary to section 33(1)(c) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974.  (The Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmospheres Regulations 2002, SI 2002/2776; Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, c. 37 (both LEGISLATION.GOV.UK).)

The Environment Agency determined that the incident was a result of “Tesco’s failure to address a known issue with part of the fuel delivery system and an inadequate alarm system and was compounded by poor emergency procedures” and imposed fines on Tesco as punishment.  (Press Release, Environment Agency, Tesco Hit with Major £8million Fine for Pollution Incident (June 16, 2017).)  The fines consisted of £5 million (about US$6.33 million) for the health and safety offense and £3 million (about US$3.8 million) for the environmental offense.  Tesco was also ordered to pay just over £35,000 (about US$44,000) to the Environmental Agency and approximately £22,000 (about US$28,000) to the local county council for their costs in handling the incident.  (Id.)

The Environment Agency stated that the sentence was intended to be a clear message that businesses and individuals who are reckless in causing pollution to the environment will be investigated and face punitive actions and substantial fines.  (Id.)