“Rhodia Consumer Specialties”, the forerunner to Rhodia UK Ltd was convicted in 2003 for polluting the ground with a loss of 22 tonnes of polyphosphoric acid at their Trinity Street site which took place in April of the previous year. This related to failure to maintain equipment on site, for failing to notify the agency of a leak and causing acid to enter ground water- relating to an incident where ground was polluted by acid from the plant.
The company were fined a total of £19,151 (and not forgetting 85pence)
Source The Express and Star 2003
WHAT DID WE ASK?
With reference to this conviction-
(i) What was the concentrated grade of the polyphosphoric acid which leaked?
(ii)I am requesting any information held on file concerning the explanation of how this material and the surrounding ground to which was contaminated was dealt with by the company or works management, including the weight of said material for disposal and
the location of the disposal site if given. Can you also confirm if the material in question had been excavated and removed offsite BEFORE the Environment Agency had been notified of the incident, several days after the incident had been discovered?
WHY DID WE ASK THIS?
We wondered if the polluted ground surrounding this leak had been excavated and removed to Rattlechain lagoon, prior to informing the agency of the leak. Out of sight, out of mind. We also wanted to know more about their manufacture of this dangerous chemical present in the waste stream at Rattlechain- and a breakdown product of white phosphorus.
WHAT DID THEY KNOW?
The agency replied. also providing a useful pdf data sheet for phosphoric acid.
I. The concentration of the phosphoric acid loss was between 97% and 118%. Please see attached Safety Data Sheet.
NB THIS IS RHODIA’S OWN SAFETY DATA SHEET FOR THEIR OWN PRODUCT
II. The Environment Agency was informed of the loss and attended the site on 04 April 2002. As a result an Enforcement Notice was served on 05 April 2002. The Notice required a plan for the removal of the contaminated soil to be submitted to us for approval. The soil was removed and disposed of through a licensed contractor. We are unable to confirm the weight and disposal site for the soil as we do not have historic records beyond ten years. The soil was only removed from the site after we had served an Enforcement Notice and had started the investigation. Please see attached letter of 17 May 2002.
I would like to query one part of the request which stated “The soil was removed and disposed of through a licensed contractor. We are unable to confirm the weight and disposal site for the soil as we do not have historic records beyond ten years.”
Given that this incident took place in April 2002, this is clearly not “beyond ten years.” Could you therefore confirm why you would not have the relevant information concerning the weight and disposal of the contaminated soil given that it is within the time
period of ten years?
“My apologies but we did not interpret the response received from our Pollution Prevention Control team correctly when we prepared your final response. The part of the response you questioned should have said ‘Almost 10 years after the event we no longer have records for the weight and disposal of the contaminated soil’.
We requested an internal review given two such different statements being made.
Within this review I would ask the reviewer to
(i)review and also to provide the text of the original internal communication (for the 15th February response)between the officer and Mids Central external relations in order to evidence whether this miscommunication did in fact take place.
(ii)State the Environment Agency’s legal stance on retaining information involved in enforcement notices of this type and the type of information held (what is the time scale for which records or information of this type are destroyed?)Is it ten years?
(iii) Given that I have previously been provided with information from The Environment agency relating to waste disposal quantities from the early 1990’s,which is still held, is it plausible that information relating to this incident which took place in April
2002, in the digital age would not have been retained in some form?
(iv) If this information is indeed still held and is only going to be destroyed on April 5th 2012, I would expect that this information is retained for the purposes of answering this request which was made before that time period of ten years elapsed
(i) Please find attached copies of emails sent between our Teams relating to your request of 09 March 2012.
(ii) We use a file retention schedule to determine how long records should be kept for. The retention schedule is a document that has been agreed by the National Archive, Information Lawyers and ourselves. It lists every type of record that we create and states how long each record type needs to be kept. In terms of any enforcement action the maximum length of time that a record is kept is 6 years. Before destruction this is subject to review by a competent officer, typically the site inspector.
(iii) If we do hold a record appropriate to a request then we would release the information to the individual/organisation regardless of the age. It is the type of record that is managed not the format that it is available in. Paper and digital records are treated the same and the retention schedule is applied to both.
(iv) As with the original request. We do not have any records relating to the disposal and weight of the contaminated soil. This information has been subject to our retention policy and as such is no longer available.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?
This request supplied some very useful information- especially concerning polyphosphoric acid’s harmful properties.
“Corrosive causes severe burns”
“Risk of serious damage to eyes”
“in the presence of water forms corrosive solutions.”
AND CRUCIALLY “IF THE PRODUCT IS NOT NEUTRALISED, IT MAY HAVE HARMFUL EFFECTS ON THE AQUATIC ENVIRONMENT.”
“Environmental precautions prevent the product from spreading into the environment. Avoid direct contact into drains.”
NB AS RHODIA’S OWN SAFETY DATA SHEET, THESE ARE RHODIA’S OWN WORDS- PITY THEY DIDN’T FOLLOW THEM THEN THEY WOULDN’T HAVE BEEN SUCCESSFULLY PROSECUTED.
The Rhodia response dated 17th May 2002 states
“Rhodia believes that since the spillage, most of the polyphosphoric acid lost to ground has been neutralised by groundwater and has passed to the nearby stormdrain.”
Is this really adequate?
It could not confirm to where the contaminated soil material was removed to, which could have been the rattlechain site.
It also explained and clarified the EA retention policy relating to such incidents.