Massive fine for chemical firm following serious spill
A chemical company has been fined £150,000 after a tank collapsed at its facility in East Sussex and released 340 tonnes of hazardous solvent.
The incident took place during the early hours of 11 March 2009 at Solvent Resource Management Ltd’s plant in Rye. A steel tank, which contained a mixture of contaminated waste water and the flammable chemical toluene, split and subsequently collapsed, releasing the solvent across the site and into a neighbouring yard. When the tank collapsed it struck a valve on an adjoining tank, causing it to fall off and release an additional 90 tonnes of contaminated waste water.
Two nightshift workers placed sand bags around the spill to try to prevent it from spreading across the site, and also began pumping some of the solvent into empty tanks. The Fire Service attended the scene and placed a 300-metre cordon around the site for two days. It also put a foam blanket over the spill to stop the release of flammable vapour. Solvent Resource Management hired a specialist removal company to clear the spilt waste. There was no damage to the environment, and nobody was injured.
The investigation, which was carried out by the HSE with assistance from the Environment Agency, found that one part of the tank’s interior wall had eroded from 5mm thick to less than 1mm thick. This left it too weak to hold the solvent and caused the tank to split.
HSE inspector Trevor Jones told SHP that Solvent Resource Management had failed to manage the examination and inspection of the tanks at the site, as this particular tank had not been inspected for five years. He issued a Prohibition Notice preventing the use of other tanks in the damaged area until a competent person and the Environment Agency could examine them. A separate Improvement Notice was also issued, requiring the remaining storage tanks at the site to be inspected, and for the firm to create and monitor a suitable inspection programme.
Inspector Jones said: “The consequences of not operating a plant in accordance with accepted international standards can be catastrophic, both to people and the environment. It was only timing that prevented this incident being more than a significant disruption to local residents and businesses.
“If the company had put in place suitable and effective measures to manage the tank inspection programme, according to its contents and use, then this incident would have been prevented.”
Solvent Resource Management appeared at Brighton Crown Court on 20 May and pleaded guilty to breaching reg.4 of the Control of Major Accident Hazards Regulations 1999, for failing to take steps to prevent a major incident and limit its effects on the environment. In addition to the fine it was ordered pay £20,000 in costs.
In mitigation, the firm said it did have an inspection programme in place but it had not been properly carried out by two employees who were responsible for managing the inspections. The company no longer employs either individual and accepts that it should have monitored its employees to ensure that the inspection programme was being properly managed.
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