Water pollution and Waste disposal

Introduction to Health and Safety at work

     Environmental considerations


Water pollution


Pollution of rivers and other water courses can produce very serious effects on the health of plants and animals which rely on that water supply. The National Rivers Authority is responsible for coastal waters, inland fresh water and ground waters (known as ‘controlled waters’). The EC Groundwater Directive seeks to protect ground¬water from pollution since this is a source of drinking water. Such sources can become polluted by leakage from industrial soakaways. Discharges to a sewer are controlled by the Water Industry Act which defines trade effluent and those substances which are prohibited from discharge (e.g. petroleum spirit). It is an offence to pollute any controlled waters or sewage system.

The local Water Company has a right to sample discharges into its sewers because it is required to keep a public trade effluent register. There are two lists of prescribed substances which can only be discharged into a public sewer with the permission of the Water Company.

12.12.3 Waste disposal

The statutory duty of care for the management of waste derives from Part 2 of the EPA. The principal requirements are as follows:

  • to handle waste so as to prevent any unauthorized escape into the environment;
  • to pass waste only to an authorized person as defined by EPA;
  • to ensure that a written description accompanies all waste. The Environmental Protection (Duty of Care) Regulations 1991 requires holders or producers of waste to complete a ‘Transfer Note’ giving full details of the type and quantity of waste for collection and disposal. Copies of the note should be kept for at least 2 years;
  • to ensure that no person commits an offence under the Act.

The EPA is concerned with controlled waste. Controlled waste comprises household, industrial or commercial waste. It is a criminal offence to deposit controlled waste without a waste management licence and/or in a manner likely to cause environmental pollution or harm to human health.

The EPA also covers ‘special wastes’ which are so dangerous that they can only be disposed using special arrangements. These are usually substances which are life threatening (toxic, corrosive or carcinogenic) or highly flammable. Clinical waste falls within this category. A consignment note system accompanies this waste at all the stages to its final destination. Before special waste is removed from the originating premises, a contract should be in place with a licensed carrier. Special waste should be stored securely prior to collection to ensure that the environment is protected.

In 1998, land disposal accounted for approximately 58% of waste disposal, 26% was recycled and the remainder was incinerated with some of the energy recovered as heat. The Producer Responsibility Obligations (Packaging Waste) Regulations 1997 placed legal obligations on employers to reduce their packaging waste by either recycling or recovery as energy (normally as heat from an incinerator attached to a district heating system). A series of targets have been stipulated which will reduce the amount of waste progressively over the years. These regulations are enforced by the Environment Agency who have powers of prosecution in the event of non-compliance.


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