Thames Water prosecutes food firms over effluent discharge

Thames Water has prosecuted two food manufacturers recently following discharges of trade effluent that threatened to block or overload its sewerage system.

The English Provender Company, manufacturer of upmarket pickles, sauces and jams, appeared before Newbury magistrates on 21 November to plead guilty to discharging matter likely to prejudice the treatment and disposal of the sewers' contents, contrary to section 111(1)(a) and (3) of the Water Industry Act 1991.

The court heard that Thames first noticed unusually large volumes of food waste reaching its Greenham Common works in August 2004. The volume and strength was so high that it resulted in a decline in the quality of the work's discharge to the river Enbourne and a breach of its discharge consent conditions.

English Provender had no trade effluent agreement and Thames sent officers to visit the company in November to advise it to tanker waste off its site if it could keep its discharge within a limit of 500 milligrams chemical oxygen demand per litre.

The warning had little effect. In February 2005, the company's effluent was sampled and found to have a COD of 9,100mg/l - over 18 times the limit.

Thames said the sewage works had a capacity to treat discharges from a population of 630 people, but the company's discharges alone were equivalent to a population of over 2,500.

English Provender pleaded guilty to the offence and was fined £2,000 with costs of £2,257.

The case was unusual in that prosecution under this section of the 1991 Act requires the sewerage undertaker to demonstrate that the discharge had adverse consequences for the sewer or treatment process. This is more demanding than simply demonstrating the breach of an effluent consent.

Only three weeks previously, another food company was fined for exceeding the fat limits in its trade effluent consent. Indian food manufacturer Maystar Corporation was fined £1,200 with costs of £1,800 by Enfield magistrates on 3 November.

Tests showed that fat and oil levels in its discharge were more than five times the permitted level. The company pleaded guilty to breaching the conditions of its consent, contrary to section 121 of the 1991 Act.

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