Country
Belgium
Sources
InforMEA
Tagging
Civil, Polluter Pays, Prevention, Contract, Property, Liability, Administrative, Damages
Abstract
This reference for a preliminary ruling concerned the interpretation of Article 1(a), (b) and (c) of Council Directive 75/442/EEC of 15 July 1975 on waste, as amended by Council Directive 91/156/EEC of 18 March 1991. The reference was made in the course of proceedings brought against senior staff of Texaco Belgium SA, and against Texaco itself, who, as the result of an accidental leak of hydrocarbons from a service station under that company’s sign, were charged with the offence of abandoning waste. The court was in doubt, however, as to whether subsoil contaminated as the result of an accidental spill of hydrocarbons could be considered waste and stated that it doubted that that classification was possible, since the land in question had not been excavated and treated. It also pointed out that legal opinion differed as to whether the accidental spill of a product which contaminated soil was comparable to the abandonment of waste and whether the petroleum undertaking which supplied the service station could be considered to be the producer or holder of such waste within the meaning of Article 1(b) and (c) of the Directive. The Court emphasized that, when the substance or object in question was a production residue, that was to say, a product which was not itself wanted for subsequent use and which the holder could not economically re-use without prior processing, it had to be considered to be a burden which the holder sought to ‘discard’. Accidentally spilled hydrocarbons which caused soil and groundwater contamination were not a product which could be re-used without processing. The implied preliminary operations would be uneconomical for their holder. Those hydrocarbons were therefore substances which the holder did not intend to produce and which he ‘discards’, albeit involuntarily, at the time of the production or distribution operations which related to them. If hydrocarbons which caused contamination were not considered to be waste on the ground that they were spilled by accident, their holder would be excluded from the obligations which Directive 75/442 required Member States to impose on him, in contradiction to the prohibition on the abandonment, dumping or uncontrolled disposal of waste. It followed that the holder of hydrocarbons which were accidentally spilled and which contaminated soil and groundwater ‘discarded’ those substances, which as a result had to be classified as waste within the meaning of Directive 75/442. Since contaminated soil was considered to be waste by the mere fact of its accidental contamination by hydrocarbons, its classification as waste was not dependent on other operations being carried out. The fact that soil was not excavated therefore had no bearing on its classification as waste. Moreover, the hydrocarbons spilled by accident as the result of a leak from a service station’s storage facilities had been bought by that service station to meet its operating needs. They were therefore in the possession of the service station’s manager. Moreover, it was the manager who, for the purpose of his operations, had them in stock when they became waste and who could therefore be considered to be the person who ‘produced’ them within the meaning of Article 1(b) of Directive 75/442. Under those conditions, since he was at once the possessor and the producer of that waste, the service station manager had to be considered to be its holder within the meaning of Article 1(c) of Directive 75/442.