Low fines for two more water offences by English China Clays

International mineral extractor English China Clays (ECCL) was fined twice in November for water pollution offences in south-west England. The offences bring its water pollution convictions to eight - six of them in the last two years. Other companies to appear in court recently on water charges include Conners Seafoods, SCA Packaging, Omex Agriculture, Dairy Crest and Croda.

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 Seafoods of Peterhead was fined £1,000 on 12 November after breaching its consent to discharge effluent to coastal waters, contrary to section 30F(3) of the Control of Pollution Act 1974. The prosecution was brought following a report by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) to the local Procurator Fiscal.

    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.

  • SCA Packaging was fined £12,000 on 18 September after pleading guilty to polluting a watercourse with trade effluent, contrary to section 85(1) and (6) of the 1991 Act. West Berkshire magistrates heard that a milky discharge into a ditch at Thatcham, near Newbury, led to an investigation by the Environment Agency. The discharge was found to be occurring through an illegal connection to surface water drains.

  • Fertiliser manufacturer Omex Agri culture was fined £8,000 after admitting polluting the North Lynn Drain, Norfolk, with fertiliser. The company appeared before Kings Lynn magistrates on 22 October following complaints to the Agency last February. An investigation found that a discharge containing high levels of ammonia was entering the watercourse from the company's site.

  • National milk producer Dairy Crest has been fined £12,000 and ordered to pay costs of £3,613 for a polluting discharge into a Cambridgeshire stream. Residents of the village of Fenstanton complained to the Agency in January of the foul smell and grey colour of the Hall Green brook. Investigations revealed that a blockage in Dairy Crest's effluent system had resulted in a discharge to surface water drains. The firm pleaded guilty to an offence under section 85 of the 1991 Act.

  • The master of the Beaufort Hunt, Ian Farquhar, was fined £6,000 and ordered to pay costs of £665 on 20 October after polluting two West Country rivers with pesticide. Thousands of rare crayfish were wiped out after a cypermethrin sheep dip was used to treat dogs with mange.

    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 ).

  • Chemical company Croda Colloids was fined £2,000 on 22 October after polluting a Bedfordshire lake with caustic soda. Luton magistrates heard that the incident resulted from a series of failures. A tank being filled with caustic soda solution was left unattended, allowing the liquid to overflow into a bund. However, the bund was in such poor condition that it leaked some 300 litres into a highway drain which entered Wardown lake. It also transpired that a high-level alarm on the tank had been removed. Croda pleaded guilty to polluting controlled waters, contrary to sections 85(1) and (6) of the 1991 Act.

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