Anglian lands swingeing £150,000 pollution fine

Anglian Water has been ordered to pay almost £180,000 after breaches at its Newmarket sewage works polluted a Suffolk river and killed 1,200 fish. The court heard that the incidents arose from a catalogue of errors and mismanagement.

Anglian Water has been fined £150,000 for three offences at its Newmarket sewage treatment works which repeatedly polluted a Suffolk watercourse and, on one occasion, killed over a thousand fish. The company was given the penalty at Ipswich crown court on 28 October and was also ordered to pay £28,973 in costs to the Environment Agency.

Mildenhall magistrates first heard the case in September when the company pleaded guilty to four charges under section 85 of the Water Resources Act 1991. Magistrates referred the case to crown court in view of the offences’ seriousness.

The first offence in January 2006 was spotted when the Agency sampled discharges from the works and discovered ammonia levels were more than twice the permitted maximum. Officers discovered that problems with ammonia levels had occurred in the two weeks before the breach.

The court heard that a manager had subsequently destroyed data on ammonia levels in the site log book. He also coerced his colleagues to falsify records to hide any further breaches. There was no way to notice if the log book had been tampered with and the alterations were only discovered when another staff member blew the whistle to senior management. Anglian said it had since sacked the manager involved.

Agency prosecutor Angela Morris said: "While the company disassociates itself from the behaviour of this manager, it had placed him in a senior position in relation to the works and failed to act upon concerns arising from its performance appraisal system."

The second offence, in July 2006, came to light after calls from the public alerted the Agency to dead and distressed fish in the Soham Lode, downstream of the Newmarket works’ discharge. The water was turbid and smelled of sewage, and about 1,200 dead fish were found over the next two days.

The pollution was traced to the sewage works. Large amounts of poorly treated sewage had escaped into the watercourse and it transpired that one of the site’s pumps had been turned off inadvertently and the other had tripped. An overflow alarm was ignored and sewage entered the river for 15 hours.

Despite being aware of the incident, Anglian did not report it to the Agency for three days. Ms Morris admonished the company for wasting the Agency’s time and resources "which could have been better directed to mitigating the impacts of the pollution and collecting evidence about the cause of the fish kill".

The third offence came to light when the company found excessive ammonia levels in the works’ discharge on 4 September 2006. The cause was a piece of metal which had sheared off equipment and jammed a valve, preventing proper operation.

The problem tripped an alarm, which was ignored by operational staff and was only picked up when other staff on a routine visit finally took action and notified the Agency.

Anglian also asked for a fourth offence of discharging poorly treated sewage to be taken into consideration. The incident in April this year occurred in similar circumstances to the earlier discharge.

The company pleaded guilty to two counts of breaching ammonia limits in its discharge consent, contrary to section 85(6) of the 1991 Act, in respect of the first and third offences. It was fined £40,000 and £30,000 respectively.

In respect of the second offence, Anglian admitted causing polluting matter to enter controlled waters contrary to section 85(1) of the 1991 Act and was fined £80,000. There was no fine for the fourth offence.

After the case, the Agency’s environmental crime team leader Phil Henderson said: "We now look to Anglian Water to demonstrate they have learnt from these incidents and ensure that there is no repetition in the future."

The Agency said the total fine was the third largest it has obtained against a water company. The largest was against Thames Water, which was fined a total of £250,000 in 2000 on water and waste charges after a misconnection at a pumping station forced sewage up through road drains and flooded streets and homes (ENDS Report 301, pp 50-51 ).

Anglian was also fined £190,000 for eight pollution offences at a Bedfordshire sewage works in 2002 (ENDS Report 325, p 55 ). The offences occurred over a ten-month period and included seven counts of discharging sewage sludge to a watercourse and one of breaching a discharge consent.

Anglian was also fined £200,000 following a private prosecution for polluting the river Crouch in Essex with sewage in 2001. The case embarrassed the Agency over its failure to prosecute (ENDS Report 326, p 54 ). However, the penalty was reduced on appeal to just £60,000 (ENDS Report 343, p 54 ).

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