In January this year, 60,000 gallons of thick white china clay effluent burst from a pipe at ECCL's St Austell site. The liquid entered a tributary of the river Fal and polluted at least 15 kilometres of the watercourse.
The company reported the spillage to the Environment Agency and tankers were used to help clean up the pollution. The Agency pressed a charge of causing polluting matter to enter controlled waters, contrary to section 85(1) and (6) of the Water Resources Act 1991. The company pleaded guilty before Cornish magistrates sitting at Bodmin on 18 November.
The prosecution told the court that fine sediments such as china clay are particularly harmful to watercourses because they smother fish spawning habitats. ECCL was fined a modest £1,600 and ordered to pay costs of £255.
Only five days earlier, the company had appeared before Plymouth magistrates to plead guilty to breaching a discharge consent at its Plympton site, contrary to section 85(6) of the 1991 Act.
The court heard that ECCL had a consent to discharge to a tributary of the Plym - a nationally important salmon river. Routine sampling by the Agency in July showed that the effluent was nearly 5°C in excess of the consent limit. The Agency said that salmon need cool waters and temperature variations can affect their behaviour and spawning patterns. ECCL was fined £1,500 and ordered to pay £255 in costs.
The two convictions bring the company's total to eight. Six of these have been clocked up since November 1996. However, ECCL's poor record has not been flagged up by the courts in the south-west where all the offences have taken place. Total fines against the firm amount to only £8,100 - less than it might have been fined by courts in other areas for any one of its offences.
Conners, a Canadian-owned fish processing company, had a consent which set a suspended solids limit of 700mg/l. However, persistent breaches with levels up to 10,000mg/l and four years of broken promises finally forced SEPA into recommending a prosecution. The company had employed three firms of consultants to address its effluent problems but failed to implement any remedial measures.
Magistrates sitting at Yate, near Bristol, heard that pollution of the Sherston Avon and Luckington brook was traced to a discharge from Badminton sewage works. The source was traced to the Beaufort Hunt Kennels where the chemical had been washed off the dogs and into the sewerage system. The discharge caused severe damage to an important population of the native white-clawed crayfish. The species is threatened by disease imported on cultivated non-native varieties.
Sheep dips based on pyrethroid insecticides such as cypermethrin are highly toxic to aquatic invertebrates. Improper disposal of pyrethroid dips has resulted in increasing reports of sheep dip pollution (ENDS Report 284, p 17 ).