8 out of 10 companies fail to fulfil environmental requirements in Catalonia

This is a translation of an original article published at Catalunya Plural in Catalan and Spanish.

The Department of Territory and Sustainability’s environmental inspections in 2018 found significant breaches in one-third of companies. However, the Directorate-General for Environmental Quality and Climate Chang explain, however, that not all the breaches they have found have an effect on the environment

Only 21% of the 543 companies that received an environmental inspection from the Department of Territory and Sustainability last year passed it “satisfactorily”. That is, meeting all the conditions of their environmental authorization. One third of them, 35%, on the other hand, did not guarantee proper compliance as “significant breaches” were detected. The remaining 44% passed the inspection with “proper compliance”, due to the irregularities found being considered “irrelevant”, as this media has been able to prove extracting information from the 2018 Integrated Environmental Inspection reports.

Indeed, the company that caught fire on December 11 in Montornès del Vallès, Ditecsa Soluciones Medioambientales, dedicated to the management of hazardous industrial waste, was one of those that did not pass the 2018 inspection, as it did not comply with all its environmental requirements. The breach mentioned in the report was related to waste management or storage, a fact which, according to Territory and Sustainability, “did not entail any environmental damage”.

The result of environmental inspections in 2018

Degree of compliance in livestock farms, industries, waste managers and controlled deposits in Catalonia

Clicking on the colours of the legend you can choose which companies appear on the map
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Interactive map in the original article

In 2018, the Department planned to inspect 671 companies that were considered to be potentially hazardous to the environment — of the 1,421 of such types in Catalonia — and the inspection report of 543 of them was published. Most of the activities inspected are large livestock farms (313) engaged in breeding broiler chickens, fattening pigs and breeding sows; but there are also 167 industries of sectors including electricity, oil refineries, cement manufacturing, stained-glass, basic chemistry, foundries, textiles or food; 47 waste management activities and 16 controlled tanks.

Not in all activity groups, however, the degree of non-compliance is the same. Inspectors said that half of livestock farms “adequately” met the conditions of their integrated environmental authorization — with minor breaches. In contrast, half of the industries, waste management companies and controlled landfills did not guarantee proper compliance at the time of inspection.

Industries, waste managers and controlled deposits, the ones who breach the most

Assessment of the degree of compliance with the conditions of the integrated environmental authorization. Percentages according to the type of activity

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Through these environmental inspections, Territory and Sustainability verifies that the activities comply with the environmental authorization granted to them to operate. That is, they assess whether they make enough to control air, water and soil emissions, waste disposal, noise and vibration, and light pollution, as well as to prevent fires.

Officials from the Department say, however, that not all the violations found in environmental inspections have an effect on the environment — neither those that are described as relevant nor those mentioned to have little relevance. “Every breach needs to be detailed”, says Mercè Rius, managing director of Environmental Quality and Climate Change.

Generally speaking, Rius says that the operation of the companies they inspect, “in terms of possible environmental damage, is adequate”. However, they do not currently have any joint assessment on whether there are many or few companies where environmental breaches are detected and not administrative ones. She assures that they are working on it.

These inspections are usually scheduled, with variable frequency depending on the environmental risks of the establishment and its history of compliance with the measures. There are also unscheduled ones, which are used to check previously detected breaches or investigate allegations or accidents.

Mercè Rius adds that while Catalonia has 21% of the companies subject to the emissions directive in Spain, 33% of all inspections are performed throughout the state. “That means we inspect a lot”, she says.

These types of controls have been carried out since 2014, when the first Catalonia Integrated Environmental Inspection Plan was approved. “It wasn’t so long ago that the plan was implemented, and we are improving it. When we finish each program we meet and evaluate if we need to review the criteria” used to determine the degree of non-compliance, says the director.

More than half of the companies with relevant breaches are repeating

At least 105 companies out of the 181 that failed to adequately comply with the conditions of their environmental authorization in 2018 had already registered significant irregularities in one or more inspections in the previous years. This does not mean, however, that they violate the same matter year after year. The thing is, when a business has significant violations, it is inspected for sure the following year.

The result of the inspection is not directly linked to any procedure, but is evaluated on a case-by-case basis. “The inspections are performed by reputable companies, and we want them to take a picture of the situation, not to make an assessment”, says the CEO. “The assessment is made by a specialist from the Generalitat [Catalan Government]” following the environmental inspection, adds Rius.

In order to make the assessment, the non-compliances are sent to the corresponding vector. For example, in the case of water discharges, the case is referred to the Catalan Water Agency (ACA); if it is related to waste production, the Catalan Waste Agency (ACR) is responsible for it; and if it is a noise issue, it is dealt by the corresponding city council. Some matters, such as cases of air pollution, are handled directly by the Directorate-General for Environmental Quality and Climate Change.

Depending on the type of non-compliance, they may be required to remedy the problem, with a sanctioning procedure, or they may even have to change the company’s environmental clearance and regularize the breach — for example, increasing the emission or energy consumption limits of an industry when production is changed so that those levels of emissions or consumption are no longer a fault. “Each case is a world, we are talking about very complex processes, and we need to look at the reasons for the non-compliance”, says Rius.

Non-compliance with waste production and air pollution

Inspections divide the environmental conditions that need to be evaluated into a series of subjects or areas. In 2018, each company where unfulfilments were detected failed, on average, two of these matters. In the case of non-compliance considered relevant, the most frequent breach were matters related to waste production (60% of companies that did not guarantee proper compliance) and air pollution (50%) — especially in the case of industrial companies.

Typology of breaches according to the environmental assessment of the company

Number of companies that failed to comply with each type

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Mercè Rius insists that not all non-compliance should be treated in the same way, as “many have no impact on the environment”. Take the example of companies that dump into the waters. Some make it directly to a river, while others to the sewer. If they exceed the discharge limits, both will report the same non-compliance, although their impact on the environment will be different.

“When the limits are exceeded, you have to see what the cause is”, says the director. Think of a company that does construction works on one of its industrial units. It will surely exceed the waste production limit that year as it will generate debris and this will be a breach, but that does not mean that it is operating incorrectly if the generated waste is properly treated.

You can consult the methodology of the information extraction, the database creation and the analysis on this link.

Details of all the companies that received environmental inspection in 2018

Find a company, filter them by searching for the name of the activity or incomplete subject, or click on the name of a column to change the order of values

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Interactive version in the original article

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