Thames Water fined over sewage

1st March 2019

Bullhead credit alamy

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  • Pollution & Waste Management ,
  • Flood


Andreas Schwaiger

Thames Water has been handed large fines over two sewage incidents that occurred in 2013 and 2015.

In October 2013, an underground sewer pipe in south-east London became blocked with tree roots, fat, oil and other debris, which caused an overflow of sewage above ground. This flooded a field and two nearby streams, polluting the River Shuttle.

On investigation, the Environment Agency found that raw sewage, which could have been flowing into the river for several days, killed around 20 stickleback fish and hundreds of invertebrates. It also affected the river habitats and quality of water over several miles. Thames Water was ordered to pay £80,000 as a civil sanction to South East Rivers Trust to make improvements to a local river, and pay the Environment Agency's costs of nearly £20,000.

On a second occasion, Thames Water was fined £2m and ordered to pay £80,000 in costs after raw sewage polluted two streams in Oxfordshire, killing around 150 fish and flooding a nearby garden. According to judge Peter Ross, it was a high-end, category three harm offence.

Between 8 and 9 August 2015, numerous failures in the management of a sewage pumping station led to sewage emptying into two brooks leading to the River Evenlode. A backlog of raw sewage was forced into the water from a sewer pipe that couldn't hold it. The Environment Agency discovered that the entire local population of bullhead fish had been killed by the toxic waste along a 50-metre stretch of water.

Investigations discovered that Thames Water was aware of the pumping station failure before the incident. However, the company ignored more than 800 high-priority alarms needing attention within four hours, and another 300 alarms – all of which pointed out failures with the pumping station – were not properly investigated.

“We hope this prosecution sends a loud and clear message that the Environment Agency will not accept poor operation, management and maintenance of sewage pumping stations,“ said lead investigator Robert Davis. “Where we have evidence of offending and serious pollution incidents like here, we will take appropriate action to bring polluters to justice.“

Image credit: Alamy

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