International Paint Fined for Chemical Release


Last month, the United Kingdom Environment Agency announced that International Paint, owned by global coatings company AkzoNobel, was found guilty on two charges relating to the discharge of hazardous waste into a nearby estuary.

Facility Investigation

In 2015, the Environment Agency launched an investigation after the company tried to sell the premises at its Newton Ferrers paint testing facility, along with reports of possible pollution.

According to the Agency’s release, International Paint ran a testing facility on the River Yealm in Devon at Newton Creek near Newton Ferrers since 1928. The estuary is considered a Special Area of Conservation due to its rich flora and fauna.

Of the manufactured paints, the company produced antifouling coatings, which have used formulations containing tributyltin (TBT) since the 1970s to prevent the build-up of animals and plants on ships’ hulls. However, the chemical was so toxic that it was banned from use on small vessels in the U.K. in the late 1980s before being banned completely worldwide during the 2000s. 

The Environment Agency reports that one drop of TBT in an Olympic-sized swimming pool equals one part per trillion (PPT), with the safe level of TBT at 0.2 PPT or a fifth of a drop.

The International Paint site was decommissioned in 2013, but the TBT and other chemicals were reportedly not cleared.

During its investigation, the Agency reportedly found evidence of TBT, copper, arsenic and mercury in the sediment in a tank at the site, along with sediment that had flowed out into the estuary. A plug on another tank was also found to have come out, leaving it open to the estuary. However, this was eventually permanently sealed with concrete.

Expert Dr. Michael Waldock reportedly carried out a review of sample analysis results from sediment in the tank and from the adjacent estuary for the Environment Agency. He found that nine out of 11 samples exceeded the safe limit for TBT and that, close to the site, one sample contained 80,000 times the safe level.

Based on these findings, Waldock concluded that the TBT levels in the estuary were sufficient to have the potential for a major toxic effect on marine life.

About the Charges

The charges were brought on following a nine-day hearing at the Plymouth Crown Court last October in a prosecution brought by the Environment Agency. The company was fined at a sentencing hearing last month, totaling 650,000 euro (about $800,000) alongside an order to pay costs of 144,992 euro.

According to reports, a report presented to the court revealed that data collected in December 2022 showed there had been “little or no reduction in the concentrations of TBT close to the International Paint site … The reservoir of TBT debris is highly persistent and it will continue to release TBT to the sediment for many more years.” 

However, it was also noted that the pollution did not appear to have spread widely in the estuary.

The Food Standards Agency is reportedly anticipated to investigate whether the “astronomic” levels of mercury also found in the river could have got into the human food chain via shellfish.

“The company not only failed in its duty of care to the environment, but also denied any wrongdoing during the investigation and throughout the trial,” said James Wimpress of the Environment Agency, following the hearing.

“We’re extremely pleased with the outcome and hope this serves as a warning to other companies that we will not hesitate to pursue those that act without regard to their responsibilities.”

The company had denied both offenses relating to the discharge of hazardous waste, the Environment Agency reported.

“We regret and take full responsibility for the fine imposed by the court as a result of our conviction for the environmental release at our former Research & Development facility in Newton Ferrers in 2016,” Ralph Slikkerveer, on behalf of International Paint, told reporters.

“IPL is a responsible company, and we take our environmental obligations very seriously. The company has been in operation for over 120 years and has no prior environmental convictions or cautions.

“We are working closely with the Marine Management Organisation regarding the next steps to remedy contamination at the site. We have also conducted a full review of the events of 2016 and adopted the learnings to ensure an incident of this nature does not occur again at any of our sites.”


Tagged categories: AkzoNobel; Antifoulants; EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa); Environmental Control; Environmental Controls; Environmental Protection; EU; hazardous materials; Hazardous waste; Hazards; Health & Safety; International (AkzoNobel); International Paint; Laws and litigation; Program/Project Management; Violations

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