Archived press release
Press & Media

New research published by Friends of the Earth today reveals that although legal limits on water pollution have been breached around two thousands times over a twelve month period [1], the chance of companies being prosecuted by the Environment Agency is only one in a hundred. Companies involved in this illegal pollution include: Trebor Bassett, McCain Foods, Nestle, Novartis Nutrition (manufacturers of Ovaltine),Cadbury and Manchester Airport.

FOE's research shows that over a twelve month period water pollution limits were breached 2,152 times in 830 locations across the Country. Whilst the Environment Agency has the power to prosecute company directors for illegal pollution, they have only prosecuted 17 companies and, as far as FOE is aware, no directors have been held liable. A FOE survey in 1995 found that fifty nine per cent of people believe that the heads of companies who illegally pollute should go to prison and eighty one per cent think the penalties imposed on companies are not severe enough [2].

FOE's research also reveals discrepancies between different Agency regions with regards to prosecution policy. The Midlands Region had 20 per cent of the breaches and took no prosecutions, whilst the Thames Region had five per cent of the breaches and undertook more than a quarter of the prosecutions. Four of the eight regions took no prosecutions at all. FOE is concerned by this lack of legal action and by the apparently cosy relationship between industry and the Agency. The Agency have now taken to referring to the industries they police as 'customers' [3] and have recently come under attack for refusing to reveal which of their staff are freemasons [4].

FOE is calling for:

.    Government action to ensure that the Environment Agency is transformed into a powerful independent advocate for the environment.
.    The Environment Agency to systematically prosecute frequent and serious offenders.
.    The Environment Agency to regularly publish league tables of illegal polluters.
.    The Environment Agency to publish details of staff involved in freemasonry or any other activity that could present a conflict of interests.
.    The Government to introduce water pollution charges to force companies to develop cleaner technologies and reduce waste.


Mike Childs, Senior Pollution Campaigner at Friends of the Earth said

" Illegal pollution is rife and the Environment Agency is letting polluters off the hook. The Environment Agency's record of prosecutions is hopeless. We have grave concerns about the cosy relationship between the Agency and Industry. The Government should give the Agency a boot up the backside and tell them to act as a tough watchdog and put the directors of these firms in the dock. If they don't act soon, Friends of the Earth will have to consider taking further legal action itself."

FOE will be publishing details of the illegal pollution on the Internet.



[1] FOE's research, which is based on data supplied by the Environment Agency, identified 2,152 breaches of discharge consent by industry. For all regions except the Midlands and Thames regions the breaches were between October 1995 and Sept 1996. The table in the report on food and drink companies has been updated to cover the most recent 12 month period for which data is available. The report reveals that it has taken FOE months to pull this information together because the Agency supplied data very late and inconsistencies between regions needed extensive work to clarify.

The research did not investigate breaches by the water and sewerage companies for technical reasons -sewerage discharges from these companies only have to be within the legal limits for 95 per cent of tests.

[2] Survey Research Associates for Friends of the Earth, 1995.

[3] Announced by Chief Executive, Ed Gallagher, at a CBI Conference in October, reported as 'Agency chief wants less litigation, "deals" with industry' in The ENDS Report, October 1995. Details of who the Agency regard as 'customers' can be found on their web pages (

[4] 'Questions over freemasonry hit Environment Agency', The ENDS Report, July 1997

If you're a journalist looking for press information please contact the Friends of the Earth media team on 020 7566 1649.


Published by Friends of the Earth Trust