Pollution incidents and environmental damage

How to clean up environmental damage


If you cause environmental damage under the environmental liability regime you may be responsible for remedying the damage.

If environmental damage is caused by your business activities, you must:

  • take all practical steps to prevent further damage
  • report details of the damage to the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA)
  • remediate or clean up the environmental damage

People who may be affected by possible damage can also report damage to NIEA.

Steps to resolving environmental damage

Remediation of environmental damage means returning the environment as a whole to the condition it would have been in if the damage had not occurred.

There are three main steps to cleaning up environmental damage:

  1. Primary remediation - work to repair the damaged site itself. If this does not fully restore the damaged site then you may also need to carry out compensatory and complementary remediation.
  2. Compensatory remediation - work to offset the loss of natural resources from the time you caused the damage to the time you fully remediate the damaged site.
  3. Complementary remediation - additional work, possibly at another site, if the site you damaged cannot be completely restored. It is carried out to compensate for when primary remediation does not fully restore the damaged site.

Notices for remediation of environmental damage

If NIEA decides you have caused environmental damage, you must draw up remediation proposals and submit them for approval. If you don't do this NIEA can issue a remediation notice requiring you to submit remediation proposals. Once NIEA has decided which remediation proposals should be implemented you must implement them.

Appeals against liability for environmental damage

You can appeal against a notice requiring you to submit remediation proposals within 28 days of it being served to you.

You can appeal if, for example:

  • the damage occurred when you were complying with an instruction from an authority, unless the instruction was in response to an incident you caused
  • you were complying with a permit or authorisation that allowed you to take the action that led to the damage - this appeal does not apply to damage caused by genetically modified organisms
  • you can demonstrate that the damage was caused by an activity or product not known to be damaging
  • the damage was caused by someone else and you had taken all appropriate safety measures to prevent it eg someone damaged your equipment after you had taken all possible measures to secure it

You can also appeal against a remediation notice, but only if the contents of the notice are unreasonable.

Environmental damage enforcing bodies

The Environmental Liability Regulations can be enforced by a number of organisations:

  • Your local district council is the enforcing body for damage, or risk of damage, to land. It is also the enforcing body for damage you cause carrying out activities covered by a pollution prevention and control permit it issued.
  • NIEA is the enforcing body for damage, or risk of damage, to land, water and biodiversity.