TotalFinaElf UK fined £54,000 for pollution of groundwater

    1 May 2002

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    TotalFinaElf UK Ltd was fined a total of £54,000 on 29 April 2002 for causing petrol to enter groundwater and a tributary of the Foudry Brook, from its service station in Tadley, Hampshire. In a prosecution brought by the Environment Agency, Total Fina was fined £18,000 on each of three offences and ordered to pay costs of £4,103.

    The court heard that between January 1999 and March 2001 the petrol station's tanks lost between two and 10,000 litres of fuel into the ground - which is equivalent to the load carried by a small road tanker. Initially, the staff were not aware of the problem, and denied there was one after the Agency’s first inspection in June 1999. The site had been subject to continuing investigations by the Agency since the late '90s, owing to complaints by the public of oil and petrol and related smells on the local stream.

    In February 2002, a nearby resident found his tapwater smelling and tasting of petrol forcing the company to replace the plastic pipework which had become contaminated. The service station drilled its own inspection boreholes in April 2000. In May that year, the Agency made a further inspection and found fuel more than three foot deep in some of the boreholes. By December 2000, the contamination had spread beyond the station perimeter.

    The main cause of the pollution was believed to be an unleaded petrol tank, which was found to have a leak in January 2000. Other leaks in filler and suction lines had been found in April the previous year.

    The Agency expects that only 50 per cent or less of the lost petrol can be recovered from the contaminated ground. This makes it likely that the remaining fuel will be periodically washed out into the stream following heavy rains, for some time to come.

    The service station has been closed since March 2001. Cleaning up at the site has been going on since November 2001 and will continue for the next 18 months. The final cost to the company for this work is likely to be in excess of £70,000.

    The offences were contrary to Section 85(1) of the Water Resources Act 1991.

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