GlaxoSmithKline's Ulverston factory (2008), alleged to be one of the most polluting factories in Britain (photo: creative commons)
British Waterways London recently gave pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline an award for their employee volunteering programme which "dramatically benefited the region’s waterways over the past 12 months".
The company volunteers were praised by British Waterways after they "removed 4,385 litres of rubbish, cleaned off 460m2 of graffiti, installed new benches and planted over 1,200 wildflowers".
Hopefully GlaxoSmithKline have turned over a new green eco leaf (or maybe they are just feeling guilty), but just for the record:
• In 2008 GlaxoSmithKline was fined for serious violations that led to the release of trichloroethylene, TCE, into the public drinking water system in Scottsdale, Arizona. GlaxoSmithKline was found guilty of failing to properly treat groundwater at the site, and failing to alert proper authorities about the release, despite being under an agreement to do both.
• GlaxoSmithKline owns a chemical plant in Ulverston, very close to the Lake District, which is alleged to be one of the worst polluters in the UK. According to a survey by Friends of the Earth (Factory Watch) of over 1,500 factories nationwide using official Environment Agency data the Ulverston plant is the 3rd worst polluter in Britain. The data showed the GlaxoSmithKline plant emitting 773 tons of carcinogenic linked material in 2001, 10% of the national total.
• In September 1992 the Ulverston site dumped several toxic chemicals in the River Leven, without authorisation.
It is hard to find up to date information about what is happening in the UK, but the Associated Press recently did an investigation into pharmaceutical pollution in the United States. They found that tons of drugs are being dumped in waterways every year by manufacturers while the authorities turn a blind eye:
"Major manufacturers and drugmakers in the U.S. have legally released at least 271 million pounds of pharmaceuticals into waterways, but the federal government has consistently overlooked the contamination."
AP reported that the antiseptics phenol and hydrogen peroxide - account for 92 percent of the 271 million pounds dumped in waterways identified as coming from drugmakers and other manufacturers.
The rest included 8 million pounds of the skin bleaching cream hydroquinone, 3 million pounds of nicotine compounds that can be used in quit-smoking patches, 10,000 pounds of the antibiotic tetracycline hydrochloride, plus chemicals related to treatments for head lice and worms.
The investigation also found that 51 million Americans are drinking water with traces of pharmaceutical drugs.