Firm left with £38,000 bill after chemical leak at Sunderland site contaminates groundwater

Hendon Dock.Hendon Dock.
Hendon Dock.
A company has been fined a five-figure sum after a chemical leak at its Sunderland site contaminated groundwater.

A company has been fined after a chemical leak at its Sunderland site.

Tradebe Solvent Recycling Ltd, of Marlow, Buckinghamshire, appeared at Sunderland Magistrates’ Court on Wednesday, pleading guilty to two offences of failing comply with an environmental permit condition.

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They were fined £27,000 and ordered to pay costs of £11,960.

Chris Bunting, prosecuting on behalf of the Environment Agency, told the court that the incident and impact of the spillage at their Hendon Dock site was caused by a combination of human error and inadequate operating and management systems.

Tradebe processes and recycles a wide variety of waste chemicals, many of which are flammable, toxic or hazardous.

On January, 8, 2015, an employee was tasked with moving around 23,500 litres of isopropyl alcohol (IPA) from a road tanker barrel into one of the site’s fixed storage tankers

IPA is not regarded as a hazardous chemical.

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During the operation, three valves were opened, two manually operated and the last one, a remote shut off valve, from a control room.

Once the transfer of IPA was complete, one of the manual valves was not properly closed and a connecting hose was left in place rather than being removed and an end cap fitted.

It was left that way overnight and also not spotted by the next day’s incoming shift.

The following morning, a shift manager noticed a leak from a pump due to the valve not being properly closed.

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The leak had collected into a sump in a bunded area. Tradebe reported the spill immediately to the Environment Agency.

The court found the volume of IPA that had been lost from the tank due to the leak was around 4,000 litres, some of which had seeped into groundwater.

The subsequent investigation by the Environment Agency found management systems and operating procedures were deficient, including no formal inspections for pipes and sumps, and an inadequate operating procedure for the transfer of liquid chemicals.

During sentencing, District Judge Roger Elsey said the incident occurred due to an unfortunate combination of circumstances.

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He added there was significant mitigation and he was impressed by the efforts of the company to make changes, and their acceptance that further work is needed.

Andrew Clark, of the Environment Agency, said: “While tests showed IPA was found in the groundwater at elevated concentrations, it is considered to be low risk to health and the environment as it rapidly biodegrades in water.

“But if this had involved a more dangerous chemical the results could have been far worse.

“The company were co-operative during the investigation and have been working to improve their management and operating systems to reduce the risk of something like this happening again future.”