DEFRA move to scrap pollution controls for small firms


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'Health disaster' fear if pollution curbs go

Defra move to scrap rules for small firms 'will turn back clock'

Paul Brown, environment correspondent
Friday July 29, 2005
The Guardian

The government is proposing to remove pollution controls from thousands of small businesses as part of its deregulation strategy, threatening its own targets on air quality.
The proposal put to local authorities, which at the moment must license 17,000 businesses to help prevent pollution, is intended to "modernise" the regulations. However it would mean scrapping some rules entirely.

The National Society for Clean Air (NSCA), which fought for 20 years to get the pollution controls imposed, and the Environmental Industries Commission (EIC), whose members sell pollution abatement technology, regard the plan as a potential public health disaster.

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The environment department's review covers as many as 5,000 processes in sectors including metal foundries, bulk cement, and bitumen and tar. Pollutants from these factories include public health hazards such as dioxins, dust particles and lead.
Adrian Wilkes, chairman of the EIC, said: "Defra's proposal threatens to roll back a cornerstone of environmental protection in the UK and leave tens of thousands of people breathing higher levels of dangerous pollutants.

"It would be the biggest ever environmental deregulation initiative in this country, reversing a decade of tightening controls on industrial pollution.

"Ministers need to act urgently to stop departments misinterpreting the sensible 'better regulation' agenda to cut red tape as an instruction to look for opportunities to de-regulate - cutting away at the framework of environmental protection that has been painstakingly built up to protect public health and improve our quality of life."

The last Conservative government pioneered air quality controls in the Pollution Control Act 1990, which put all power stations and large industrial complexes under licensing schemes. This was extended to all smaller business under local authority control, including petrol stations and their potentially cancer causing fumes.

The act put in place the concept of "best available techniques not entailing excessive cost" so that pollution control standards would constantly improve over the years as technology developed.

A recent research report to Defra, the environment department, on the legislation, said the cost of implementing improved pollution control had been £5bn but the benefit to the public in terms of health and improved environment was calculated at £68bn.

The EU was so impressed with the success of the scheme that a similar regime was adopted across Europe But some processes, mainly concerned with timber, minerals and food were left out of European legislation despite being included under the British rules. It is these extra processes that the UK now wants to deregulate.

About 10,000 people a year in the UK die prematurely because of particulates in the air. Small industrial processes are among the largest emitters of these substances.

Tim Brown, head of policy at the NSCA, said: "Air pollution is shortening the lives of tens of thousands of people every year in the UK. Industrial processes produce a range of air pollutants, including carcinogens and particles which have no safe threshold."

He said abandoning legislative controls would mean a return to using the previous nuisance legislation, which was difficult to interpret and only applicable in retrospect. It would produce more court cases, and re-introduce the problems of agreeing planning permission for some new industrial processes.

Yesterday Defra said the review was initiated because the pollution act was 15 years old and the government wanted to see if the regulations were still needed. Controls would not necessarily be scrapped, it said. No decisions had yet been taken and any proposals to get rid of controls would be open to consultation.