The number of serious water pollution incidents has doubled in a year, the Environment Agency showed today.
Pollution incidents in the water industry rose from 65 in 2010 to 120 in 2011 and most occurred within the sewer and water network.
It comes as the agency awarded more companies than ever the highest ‘A’ rating for their environmental performance.
Overall serious industrial pollution incidents across all sectors including industry, water, waste and farming fell slightly to 620 last year.
Last year’s figure was a 4 per cent drop on 2010 and down more than half on the figures for 2000, the latest sustainable business report revealed.
The Environment Agency suggested that some of the increase in serious water pollution incidents was due to a rise in the amount reported by the water companies themselves, but self-reporting increased only slightly last year.
An agency spokesman said: ‘Substantial investment by water companies has helped improve water quality in recent decades.
‘We are working with the water industry and Ofwat to ensure that this overall trend continues, particularly given the pressures of population growth and climate change.’
In general, pollution such as waste fires and uncontrolled releases from industry or of sewage can pose a risk to life, destroy habitats, affect drinking water supplies and prevent people from using and enjoying their local environment, the agency said.
They found that overall, the environmental performance by businesses is improving.
With more companies than ever being awarded the highest rating, the agency cut regulatory costs for well-run businesses by £15 million last year.
Operators who comply fully with permits governing how their site is run paid nearly 70 per cent less last year in regulatory fees than those who performed badly.
Just 184 of almost 14,000 sites which require a permit to operate have been given the lowest ratings for two years or more, causing problems for neighbours and the community. The most common public complaint about such sites is bad smells.
The Environment Agency also said it had shut down 759 illegal waste sites last year.
Improved detection by its recently formed specialist illegal waste sites taskforce had identified 1,175 illegal sites in England and Wales and shutting them down is the taskforce’s top priority, the agency said.
Environment Agency chairman Lord Chris Smith said: ‘Achieving both economic growth and the protection of the natural environment is not always easy but can be achieved.
‘It will not happen without effective regulation of the impact business has on the environment and a commitment from businesses themselves to act as responsible neighbours and good corporate citizens.
‘Reassuringly, the latest performance record shows businesses are increasingly recognising there is a value and opportunity in this broader sense of responsibility.
‘However, there’s no room for complacency as a minority of businesses are still bad neighbours and the environmental impacts from their activities result in complaints from local communities.’
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