Tesco has been fined £8m after more than 23,500 litres of petrol leaked out of one of its filling stations in a “massive” pollution incident.
The incident sparked a huge multi-agency operation involving the Environment Agency, Lancashire County Council, United Utilities, Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service and Lancashire Police.
Residents were forced to leave their homes when between Wednesday 2 July and Thursday 3 July 2014 petrol escaped from a filling tank in Haslingden.
The Environment Agency’s joint investigation with partners found that the incident resulted from Tesco’s failure to address a known issue with part of the fuel delivery system and an inadequate alarm system, and was compounded by poor emergency procedures.
Tesco today apologised and said it had introduced measures to stop a repeat of the incident.
A court heard petrol entered the sewerage system with the odours affecting residents up to 1km away, causing people to seek medical attention as they were affected by headaches and sickness. The odours remained in homes for days.
Some of the petrol also entered Langwood Brook and the River Irwell, causing a significant environmental impact, killing fish and other aquatic life.
Samples taken from the River Irwell detected oil up to three miles downstream. More than 40 dead fish, including brown trout, were found within 1.5 miles of where the pollution entered. Anglers reported dead fish in Bury, over six miles downstream.
Tesco was fined a total of £8m: £5m for the health and safety offence and £3m for the environmental offence.
Mark Easedale, an environment manager for 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 90% lower than those found upstream.”
A Tesco spokeswoman 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.”