Detergent spill cleanup costs £1.7m

A fire at a chemical manufacturing building spread to the whole facility, resulting in its complete destruction. The fire and water used to extinguish the fire, resulted in the discharge of heavily contaminated water to the river that eventually ended up in the estuary and the sea.

The consequences

The company alerted the authorities who subsequently activated the emergency protocol to prevent the spread of the polluted water and minimise the damage to the estuary. The emergency measures necessitated the use of 60 people, 10 vehicles, and the temporary installation of both anti-pollution barriers, and absorption barriers installed all along the river.

As a result the authority issued the insured with a claim for £1.7m for clean-up costs and mitigation measures. Fortunately, because the detergent was of a biodegradable nature, the damages to the river and estuary were limited.

This case demonstrates how fire can trigger pollution conditions (fire water runoff), which result in significant environmental liabilities. Even though these may be sudden and accidental in nature, a public liability policy would not respond to the regulatory clean-up costs arising from this type of incident.