Industrial pollution

Pollution from industrial installations and processes takes many forms. Some can cause air pollution, others may cause water or land to become contaminated, while others may cause nuisance to local residents through the noise, dust or odour they emit. Reducing pollution is also important since external air quality is the main determinant of indoor air quality, regulated in respect of workplaces under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and in respect of homes under legislation such as the Housing Act 2004. Many air pollutants also have a complex relationship with climate change.

Environmental health practitioners work with industry operators to apply the best available techniques to reduce the amount of pollution caused by thousands of ‘regulated facilities’, in order to protect the environment and minimise the risks to public health. The Environment Agency also plays a part in controlling pollution from larger industrial sources.

On 6 April 2008 a new regime for controlling industrial pollution came into force. The new regime – called Environmental Permitting (EP) - has streamlined and combined previously separate waste and pollution control systems. It covers all those industrial and waste management activities which have the potential to harm the environment or human health.

The Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has a section dedicated to Environmental Permitting on the GOV.UK website from where you can find further information.

▼ Local authorities and pollution control 

Under the Environmental Permitting regime local authorities are responsible for regulating certain types of industry and other activities such as dry cleaners. This is to reduce any pollution they may cause and, in particular, to help improve air quality. Businesses which operate these installations must obtain a permit.

For many installations (known as ‘Part Bs’), local authorities can deal only with their potential to cause air pollution. For some others (known as ‘A2’), they must look at other potential environmental impacts too. The Part B system is known as Local Authority Pollution Prevention and Control (LAPPC). The A2 system is Local Authority Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control (LA-IPPC).

Local authorities regulate about 80 different types of installation. These include glassworks and foundries, rendering plant and maggot breeders, petrol stations and concrete crushers, sawmills and paint manufacturers. Other installations (known as ‘A1s’) are regulated by the Environment Agency. They are usually larger or more complex, such as chemical works.

If the authority agrees to issue a permit, it must include appropriate conditions. These conditions will say how pollution is to be controlled. Government guidance has been published for each type of installation on what are likely to be the best available techniques for doing that. The authority must by law have regard to that guidance.

Once a permit is issued, the operator must comply with the permit conditions (which may be varied to keep them up-to-date). Installations are inspected from time-to-time, depending on their risk-rating and if the operator fails to comply, the local authority can issue a notice requiring compliance and, if necessary, it can prosecute the operator. However, local authorities generally try to work with operators to solve problems and only use enforcement measures as a last resort.

To assist EHPs in undertaking their work on industrial pollution the CIEH supports Ricardo - AEA which runs a comprehensive package of training seminars supported by online training materials as part of its ‘EMAQ+’ package.

▼ Local Air Pollution Control 

Under the Environmental Protection Act 1990 and its subordinate legislation, industrial processes are divided up into two lists: 

  • Part A processes which are controlled by the Environment Agency using a system called Integrated Pollution Control 
  • Part B processes which are controlled by local authorities under the LAPC system 

In order to be allowed to operate, Part B processes must be granted authorisation by the local authority. These processes fall into one of the following categories: 

  • Animal and vegetable processing sectors – eg  petfood manufacturing 
  • Combustion and incineration – eg crematoria 
  • Minerals sector – eg lead glass manufacturing and quarry processes
  • Metals sector – eg iron, steel and non-ferrous metal foundry processes 
  • Organic chemicals sector– eg fibre reinforced plastics 
  • Petroleum, gas odorising and powder coating sector – eg petrol unloading at petrol stations 
  • Solvents sector – eg printing and leather finishing 
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