Pollution Prevention: Legal Requirements and Compliance

We often get asked what the legal requirements are specifically for pollution prevention and the answer is not as simple as you might suspect.  This blog will discuss what we mean when we talk about legal requirements and compliance for environmental management.

The Foundations of Environmental Law

Pollution is the introduction of any substance that harms, or could harm people or the environment into the air, water or ground and organisations have a responsibility for preventing or allowing pollution to occur.  Environmental law is based on a few key principles, among them, the precautionary principle, the polluter pays principle and pollution prevention.  Specifically, the concept of pollution prevention overarches many of the legal mechanisms in place for environmental legislation with the idea that prevention is better than the cure.  So, in other words, it’s better to stop pollution in the first place than have to deal with clean-up and remediation later.

Legal Requirements

There are a number of prescribed pollution prevention requirements in the law that specifically state what should be done.  The Control of Pollution (Oil Storage) (England) Regulations 2001 are an obvious example.  They state how oil should be stored to prevent pollution and have specific requirements for bunding and testing of underground supply pipelines.  Other regulations or acts are more general in their requirements about pollution prevention.


Many of the acts and regulations currently in force in the UK reference pollution prevention across the full range of environmental issues, including waste, contaminated land, air emissions and discharges to water.  There are multiple instances where regulations say that reasonable actions should be taken to ensure that environmental pollution is avoided.  With this in mind, although certain pollution control measures are not specifically a legal requirement, it is required that sites and businesses are managed in a way to prevent pollution.  To support the legal framework, the regulating authorities provide guidelines on how to prevent pollution from sites, which should also be considered.  Businesses need to take a risk management approach and ensure that reasonable measures are in place for pollution management.  This could include, but is not limited to spill kit provision, correct storage of liquids, drainage awareness and maintenance, manhole painting, robust emergency procedures and environmental inspections.  For businesses with higher risk activities, an Environmental Permit or other permissions may be required.  Depending on what activities are taking place, a Permit will include requirements to implement control measures with the aim of preventing pollution that must be adhered to.

It is a legal requirement for businesses to prevent pollution from escaping to the environment.  There are a number of specified requirements that must be followed and more general requirements where sites must decide what to do to prevent pollution and implement those measures.  In the event of an incident, a site will need to demonstrate what measures were taken to prevent an incident from occurring and this will be taken into consideration for prosecution.  Prevention of pollution is better than the cure and this is clearly included in the UK’s legislative framework.