Environment Agency orders ‘shut down’ low impact pollution event investigations

Leaked report reveals England’s Environment Agency no longer has resources for inquiries into many incidents, despite potential threats to ecosystems 

The official body has asked staff to close down investigations into low impact category 3 and 4 pollution events due to lack of funding. 

As a result, incidents including farm pollution and hazardous dumping by private businesses may no longer be subject to scrutiny by the organisation. Instructions were sent to staff during a November 2021 briefing, that also warned leaders had ‘made it clear to the government that you get the environment you pay for’. 

The document was leaked to The Guardian and environmental business platform Ends Report earlier this week. According to their reports, Environmental Agency staff should give ‘no response to unfunded low- and no-impact environmental incidents’, respectively classed as category 3 and 4 events. The instructions go on to specify that staff should ‘not substantiate report, call site or add any details. Shut down report.’

garbage on the ground during daytime

Some exceptions have been made, including where the cause is identified as a water company or regulated site. Crucially, though, there is no clear process for identifying either the source of pollution or the severity of impact. It is also not uncommon for category 3 events to be upgraded to category 2 after investigators attend the site. 

Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, Environment Agency investigations were at an all-time high. In 2019, there were 6,164 official inquiries into business-related pollution events. Of those, 1,807 involved the water industry, setting an annual record for the sector. In 2021, 8,000 incidents were attended by inspectors, a figure dwarfed by the total number of reported events – 116,000. 

The news comes just over one month after Environment Journal published a feature on the ongoing fight to stop untreated sewage flowing into UK rivers, lakes and coastal waters. 

Photo Credit – Manny Becerra









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