Faulty pumps cost United Utilities £38K

United Utilities paid out £38,000 in fines in April and May, for three separate pollution incidents.

United Utilities appeared in court twice in May for causing sewage to be discharged into local waterways. The first incident concerned an overflow of sewage effluent into the river Douglas, near Wigan.

On 13 May, Wigan magistrates heard that a serious sewage pollution incident in July 2009 coloured eight kilometres of the river Douglas blue and suffocated thousands of fish, including roach, perch and eels.

The company only admitted that its Chorley Road pumping station in Standish, Wigan, had discharged the sewage when investigating Environment Agency officers asked whether there had been any unplanned discharges.

A faulty pump was found to have caused an emergency overflow of raw sewage into the river. A five-hour delay in attending  to the overflow due to a warning system malfunction, and the failure of a poorly maintained backup pump, exacerbated the problem.

The company pleaded guilty to three offences: causing sewage to be discharged into the river, contrary to sections 85(3)(a) and 85(6) of the Water Resources Act 1991; failing to notify the agency of an emergency discharge; and failing to properly maintain the duty and standby pumps, both of which were contrary to the firm’s discharge consent and section 85(6) of the 1991 act. United was fined £12,000 with costs of £1,944.

Raw sewage discharge

United returned to court 11 days later to answer more offences connected with pump maintenance failures and sewage overflows at its Warrington Road, Warrington, site. It was fined £12,000 by Halton magistrates for allowing untreated sewage to enter Springfield brook in June 2009. Costs were £2,895.

The failures caused a raw sewage discharge that turned the brook brown and damaged its ecology.

The company had failed to respond to alarms for three days and only discovered the pollution when told by the agency.

Steven Fraser, United Utilities’ managing director of operations, told ENDS the company regretted both incidents and has taken steps to ensure they would not be repeated. It has spent £53,000 upgrading the Chorley Road pumping station and £8,000 on re-stocking the river Douglas with fish. The Warrington Road pumping station has now been refurbished, and the pumps and alarms upgraded.

The company also appeared in court on 12 April. It was fined £14,000 with £7,863 costs by North Sefton magistrates, following a serious pollution incident at Three Pools Waterway, Southport, Merseyside in July 2009.

Pump failures at Crowland Street pumping station caused sewage to spill into the waterway, killing more than 6,000 fish.

The incident was serious enough for it to be subject to the Environmental Damage (Prevention and Remediation) (England) Regulations 2009 (ENDS Report 422, p 8). United is awaiting an agency decision on the terms of remediation required.

The company’s water pollution fines so far this year already exceed the £22,500 it paid out in the whole of 2008. In 2009 it paid out a total of £81,000 in fines (ENDS Report 421, p 65).

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