Authorities damned for slow response to environmental disaster

Published: Friday, 16 March 2018

IT WAS the end of January that the Lee saw its worst environmental disaster when engine oil was pumped into the waterway.

Yet neither the Environment Agency nor Canal & River Trust took any prompt action, instead allowing the contamination to spread downstream and pollute over five miles of waterway. And this was no small incident, but an estimated 78 tonnes of engine oil pumped into the waterway, killing wildlife in its wake.

LeeOilLack of resolve

Yet here we are, nearly two months after the disaster occurred, yet the lack of resolve by the authorities means that it has still not been cleaned-up, making it the worst contamination crime in recent history when used engine oil entered the river at Pymmes Brook.

It was the slow emergency response by the authorities that made it so much worse, allowing the oil to spread far downstream, with organisations such as the National Bargee Travellers Association London, Moo Canoes, Lea Boaters Collective, Thames21, The Swan Sanctuary, London Waterkeeper, The Green Party, Residential Boat Owners' Association, banding together to castigate the authorities for their very slow response to the disaster.


Dead coot covered in oil aThe organisations are demanding:

Explanations—Why was an environmental disaster neither acted upon immediately, nor respective actions clearly communicated?

Transparency—We call on the Environment Agency and Canal & River Trust to share publicly their waste crime response and communication strategy, including roles and responsibilities and allotted emergency budget.

Improvements—We demand an inter-agency investigation and root cause analysis of the February 2018 River Lea [Lee Navigation] Oil Disaster and clean-up response. Lessons learnt and future measures to prevent and cope with disasters of such nature should be shared publicly.

Accountability—We call on DEFRA, EAC and the EFRA select committee to hold the Environment Agency and the Canal & River Trust to account for their handling of this disaster and to consider whether the agencies are adequately funded to meet their public objectives.

Scrutiny—A process established whereby charities and community groups can review the approach to water quality and pollution management within the Lee Valley.