City-centre building £2m environmental loss

While carrying out replacement works in the basement of a city centre, multi-tenanted commercial building, contractors inadvertently damaged badly-corroded pipes connecting oil storage tanks to boilers.

The leak was undetected for at least a week, with approximately 20,000 litres of fuel being lost during this period.

The consequences

Work to remedy the situation did not start until a few weeks after discovery of the leak. As a result, the problem was exacerbated with fuel penetrating into the slab beneath the basement and a basement cinema. Significant remedial work was required, comprising flooding and flushing out of the diesel using dispersants and water, and subsequent removal of fuel-bearing fluid by tanker. The sub-floor and basement slab were also excavated and the contamination removed. Additionally, operation of the cinema was interrupted for an extended period.

The costs for on-site clean-up and third party business interruption were estimated at £2 million. This case demonstrates how even a seemingly low risk land use, like an office building, has the potential to give rise to significant environmental liabilities. It also demonstrates how, despite good intentions and risk management, operator error or mechanical error still leaves the potential for environmental damage to occur.