Water industry still dominates pollution league

Four of the five worst water polluters in England and Wales are water companies, according to the latest data on prosecutions taken by the National Rivers Authority (NRA). Yorkshire Water and North West Water have performed particularly poorly. Coal, dairy, construction and chemical companies also appear high on the list of major polluters.

The water industry figured prominently in the last ENDS prosecution league, compiled from NRA data on cases taken from its birth in September 1989 up to the end of November 1992 (ENDS Report 218, p 7 ). The latest data, complete up until the end of 1993, show that the water industry has consolidated its position at the top of the table. Six of the top ten polluters are water companies. Since privatisation, water businesses have paid over £600,000 in fines and costs (see table

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Welsh Water, the most frequently prosecuted water company, and Yorkshire Water have paid the largest sums in fines and costs. Welsh Water's performance improved in 1993 - but Yorkshire Water notched up 13 prosecutions, more than doubling its total.

One recent prosecution brought by the NRA cost Yorkshire Water over £77,000 after a sewer blockage flooded a busy tourist beach with sewage during a Bank Holiday weekend (ENDS Report 221, p 44 ). The company has appealed against the verdict. It has also been prosecuted by local authorities for a waste offence (ENDS Report 219, p 43 ) and for a serious odour nuisance (ENDS Report 215, p 42 ).

In March, Yorkshire Water received a stern warning from the NRA that it faces another prosecution following a series of pollution incidents in Bradford caused by leaks in three 48-inch pipes which carry most of the city's sewage across the river Aire to the Esholt treatment works.

One of the pipes failed in November, but as repairs on this were being completed in January a second pipe burst. Repairs to this were being tested on 1 March when it split again further upstream. Then the first pipe suffered a second burst, and on 21 March the third pipe ruptured. As a result, some 400 gallons of sewage which had had only the solids settled out of it were discharged to the Aire every second.

In an angry statement, the NRA's Regional General Manager Roger Hyde said that "these pipes burst every time they are repaired and the river is suffering as a result. If this isn't proof of the need to spend money on the infrastructure of old and decrepit works, I do not know what is. Esholt is not the only sewage works in this state. Today it is Bradford, where will it be tomorrow?"

Warning that there was little doubt that Yorkshire Water will be prosecuted for the incidents, Mr Hyde added that the company has "little of my sympathy and probably even less of the people of Leeds and Bradford. They must learn they need to spend some of their money on cleaning up our rivers."

North West Water also performed poorly in 1993, more than doubling its prosecution total with seven cases. Again, a sewage flooding incident attracted the highest fine, when a pub and a hotel were forced to close for a weekend (ENDS Report 226, p 44 ). The company was fined £10,000 and criticised for failing to respond to warnings suggesting that there was a fault at a sewage pumping station.

The water industry will take little comfort from the data, which lend no support to the idea that it is improving its performance. In the 40 months of the NRA's existence up to the end of 1992, it brought 123 prosecutions against water companies - an average of 3.1 per month. During 1993 the average was 3.2 per month.

British Coal maintained its lead at the head of the prosecutions league with five new offences in 1993. As in previous years, ICI, British Steel, British Rail, and companies in the dairy, construction and aggregates sectors feature prominently. Dairy Crest, an arm of the Milk Marketing Board, was prosecuted four times during the year. ICI appears to have improved the performance of its Runcorn site, which avoided prosecution in 1993. However, the company was prosecuted for one breach at its Wilton site.

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