Tesco has been slapped with two fines totaling in £8 million after it pleaded guilty to leaking thousands of litres of petrol into sewers and a local river in northern England.
Preston Crown Court ordered the company to pay the fines and costs pertaining an incident in July 2014, when about 23,500 litres of fuel escaped over 29 hours from a filling tank at one of Tesco’s petrol stations in Haslingden, Lancashire.
The leak sparked an operation involving the Environment Agency, Lancashire County Council, United Utilities, Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service and Lancashire Police and forced local residents to leave their homes due to the smell of fuel after it trickled into the sewerage system.
The Environment Agency said some residents were had to seek medical attention due to headaches and sickness as a result of the leak.
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 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 £5 million for a health and safety offence and £3 million for an environmental offence.
Tesco was also ordered to pay costs of more than £57,000 to the Environment Agency and Lancashire County Council.
“This pollution incident had a dramatically negative impact on the local community and the environment with Langwood Brook and the River Irwell severely affected,” the Environment Agency’s Mark Easedale said.
“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 90 per cent lower than those found upstream.”
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.”