Tesco fined £8m over 2014 fuel leak into river and sewers
Tesco has been hit with fines totalling £8m for the leak of thousands of litres of fuel from a petrol station into sewers and a local river.
The company was ordered to pay fines and costs at Preston Crown Court after pleading guilty to the pollution incident in July 2014, in which about 23,500 litres of petrol escaped over 29 hours from a filling tank at a petrol station in Haslingden.
Petrol leaked into the sewerage system, forcing local people to leave their homes due to the pervading smell of fuel.
Some people were forced to seek medical attention, complaining of headaches and sickness, the Environment Agency said.
Petrol also entered Langwood Brook and the River Irwell, polluting the watercourse and killing fish.
Samples from the River Irwell detected oil up to three miles downstream while more than 40 dead fish, including brown trout, were found within 1.5 miles of where the petrol entered. Anglers also reported dead fish six miles downstream in Bury.
The incident sparked a multi-agency operation involving the Environment Agency, Lancashire County Council, United Utilities, Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service and Lancashire Police.
The Environment Agency said its joint investigation found the incident resulted from Tesco's failure to address a known problem with part of the fuel delivery system and an inadequate alarm system and was compounded by poor emergency procedures.
Tesco Stores Ltd pleaded guilty and was fined £5m for a health and safety offence and £3m for an environmental offence.
Mark Easedale, from the Environment Agency, said: "This pollution incident had a dramatically negative impact on the local community and the environment with Langwood Brook and the River Irwell severely affected.
"A week after the pollution incident an investigation by Environment Agency officers found fish populations in the River Irwell immediately downstream of Langwood Brook were around 90pc lower than those found upstream."
The Environment Agency brought a joint prosecution with Lancashire County Council and Tesco was also ordered to pay costs of more than £57,000 to the two organisations.
Albert Atkinson, deputy leader of Lancashire County Council with responsibility for trading standards, said: "This was a major leak of fuel in a relatively built-up area and close to a busy superstore. The potential consequences are only too obvious.
"The fact that the leak was allowed to continue for more than 24 hours undoubtedly contributed to a risk of harm to people living and working nearby, as well as emergency services and other professionals attending the incident."
A Tesco spokesman 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."