Pollution law

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Question 1 Introduction We will consider water and air pollution. We will look at what causes harm to each of these media. We will then move on to consider the legal provisions in place to counteract or prevent that harm. Water This is mainly concerned with inland and coastal waters and the quality of these water bodies. Water quality can be affected by natural events or by the actions of people. Firstly, natural events like heavy rainfall and flooding can create pollution problems from farm runoff. Conversely, drought can cause problems with pollutants being more concentrated. Generally, however, the main kinds of harm that lead to water pollution are caused by individuals or organisations. The harm is mainly as a result of discharge to water and can be as a result of intentional actions like littering, fly tipping, or dumping waste. The most common is discharges to water, from sewage works, the content of which is highly polluting. Other discharges to water can be from industries. This may involve toxic or organic pollutants being discharged into water. This can also involve Leachate from waste sites. Agricultural water pollution is another source of pollution, which can lead to pesticides or fertiliser being passed into water streams. In addition, farming can also contaminate groundwater, through the means of sheep dips. “Agriculture is the number one polluter of water in the country” [1] was the chilling finding of the Policy Commission on the Future of Farming and Food (2002). Other sources of water pollution is the often much publicised oil and fuel spills that happen from time to time. These may be caused by accidents. Accidents in the transporting of sometimes hazardous substances can also end up in the water streams or ocean. Damage through accidents may not involve toxic substances but a great deal of harm can be caused by “innocent substances” like milk and apple juice. The impact that these substances may have will vary depending on the amount of the substance being released and the location where they are discharged. It is important to note that we generally consider water pollution to arise where water is rendered unfit for use – either for human consumption or aquatic life. The focus of this aspect of environmental law is not just pollution to water but also the setting of desired standards of water quality. Legal controls over water quality and pollution The body responsible for water quality in England is the Environmental Agency (EA). The main statutory instrument that applies is the Water Resources Act, 1991 (WRA, 1991). In addition, EC law is increasingly affecting the practices in England. The EC Water Framework Directive[2] is expected to have a large impact on all aspects of pollution control and water quality management. Indirectly, international law also applies, especially in terms of treaties and the UK’s obligations under these treaties. We will now look into the legal controls more closely. Firstly it is necessary to consider the quality of the public water supply.

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