Water Contamination and Regulatory Transparency

imageRight now most MSPs are deferring their official judgment on Fracking ect.. But they can’t defer a position on Regulatory Transparency. What happens when we do have industrial contamination. When something goes wrong how would we find out the details about it? You might think after your water or air gets contaminated the relevant authority would let you know the details of the contamination.

Well Scotland did have had serious water contamination in 2015. 6000 homes in North Lanarkshire had serious contamination in the water supply. They were told not to drink cook or bathe in it. That was June 2015 and there is still no public information for the affected communities about the contamination. Scottish water completed a full report in July/August and past this to the Drinking Water Quality Regulator (DWQR) who are reviewing the incident.

In this situation, how trusting would you be of our regulatory systems to ensure you and your family are not still at risk of contamination in the water supply? I have no doubt Scottish water are doing all they can to ensure this is not the case. However a Wishaw resident said this in a petition on the issue:

“still concerned about the water system ‘flush out’ which is happening here in North Lanarkshire between 30 November – 18 December [2015] :10 PM and 6 AM. No information given by Scottish water to see what’s going on”

Would you still trust that all is exactly as it should be, that the regulator should be left to do its job, that in due course they will let the public see all the contamination details?

Should the Regulator decide to take legal action against a company or individual, their job is to secure a prosecution. But what happens when there is a conflict of interests between their aims and the public right to know the details of the contamination?
I’m sure you may have seen reports of big energy sector companies found guilty of contamination paying millions in fines, in scotland it is no different. The Herald article from the 8th November illustrates my point.

More than 300 industrial sites across Scotland – including a host of well-known names – have been named and shamed by the government’s green watchdog for their “poor” or “very poor” performance on pollution, the Sunday Herald can reveal.

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) has condemned 371 plants for leaks, spills, bad smells, permit breaches and a series of other equipment and management failures. The pollution record of companies in 2014 was significantly worse than in 2013, latest figures show, and Sepa missed its compliance target as a result.

Among those outed by Sepa for failing to control contamination are the oil giant BP at Grangemouth, the Dounreay nuclear plant in Caithness, the Tarmac cement works near Dunbar, and Inverness airport. Repeat offenders included the McVities biscuit factory in Glasgow and the wood plant run by Norbord at Cowie near Stirling.

But should the incident contamination reports (the documents that allow the public to actually understand the contamination) be used as negotiating leverage in pursuit of a prosecution? Remember heavy industries live with prosecutions as part of their process, precisely because our regulatory system is geared up for negotiated settlements with associated fines. And industry regard these fines as fees, the cost doing business. Is our right to know details of contamination being negotiated away to secure higher industrial penalties?

What stops a legal industrial processes from continuing is in large part public and political pressure. But if the public never knows the details of the contamination produced by that industrial processes, how can we expect political pressure against these cash rich, employment generating, tax revenue producing industries?

A Freedom of information request to see the north Lanarkshire Scottish Water report was denied because the regulator believed it was not in the public interest for it to be made public. The DWQR will at some point conclude their process and publish a statement about the incident. However they are not required to make the Scottish Water contamination report public.
This is what the DWQR said:

“Once any potential criminal proceedings have concluded, or we have decided, for whatever reason, not to proceed with the case, we would aim to publish our assessment of the incident and it may be that Scottish Water’s report can also be released at this time.”

Meantime the local population is left utterly disempowered. The report will contain contamination information that could prove invaluable to public health and the natural environment of the area. The DWQR decision is an example of a process that is not working in the best interest of the affected communities but rather, in the interests of the DWQR.

If you want to ensure that your ‘right to know’ about industrial contamination is not negotiated away by the DWQR in pursuit of a legal prosecutions, negotiated settlements or higher punitive fees, write to your MSP and ask them to ensure the contamination reports made by Scottish Water are made public.

Template letter in here.

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