An engineering firm based in the Midlands has been fined £133,000 after its emergency plans failed to prevent contaminated fire-fighting water and chemicals from polluting the River Anker.

In April 2010, a large fire broke out at Abbey Metal's Nuneaton metal finishing works. Tackling the blaze resulted in a “cocktail of hazardous substances” being washed into the river, killing some 27,000 fish. Birmingham Crown Court heard that the company's emergency measures were inadequate and that no plan had been made to access the sewerage system for the emergency storage of contaminated water.

Despite the fire service using pollution prevention equipment, water from the site containing cyanides, copper and cadmium from metal treatment processes reached the river running along the back of the site.

The fire qualified as a major incident under the Control of Major Accident Hazards (COMAH) Regulations SI 1999/743, which the firm pleaded guilty to breaching, along with three offences under the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations SI 2010/675.

An Environment Agency officer commented, “The Agency expects high standards from COMAH establishments. Where accidents are foreseeable, the operator must plan to prevent or mitigate them. This is what Abbey Metal failed to do.”