Yorkshire Water fined £350,000 for sewage offence

19th August 2016


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Yorkshire Water has been fined £350,000 and ordered to pay costs of £30,000 after it illegally discharged sewage into a Harrogate river.

The incident took place in 2013 after a blockage in the sewer caused untreated and unscreened sewage to flow into Rud Beck and the River Crimple.

Prosecuting for the Environment Agency, Richard Bradley told Bradford Crown Court that toilet rolls and rags could be seen, and the water downstream was a cloudy, yellow-grey colour and there was a strong smell of sewage. Samples showed high levels of ammonia and low levels of dissolved oxygen.

Yorkshire Water had notified the agency of the blockage on 15 April 2013 but further investigations revealed that sewage had been discharging from the overflow for three days before the regulator was alerted.

The company’s telemetry alarm system, which should have notified staff that there was a problem, had been malfunctioning for a month because it had not been reset after a previous warning. The company had also failed to detect an increase in the telemetry levels on 12 April.

A spokesperson for the agency said untreated sewage was present in Rud Beck for 87 hours and caused significant pollution to more than 5 km of the watercourse and the river into which it flows.

The spokesperson added: ‘It is not uncommon for foreign objects to enter a sewer and cause blockages and this is why telemetry is so important. The impact of this discharge would have been significantly less if the telemetry had been working properly or if Yorkshire Water had detected the increase in the telemetry levels and responded sooner.’

Yorkshire Water proactively reported the breach, co-operated with the investigation and organised and paid for watercourse to be cleaned.

The firm told the court that it had upgraded its telemetry equipment in May 2013 and introduced a clear escalation procedure for responding to contradictions in the system.

A spokesperson for the company said: ‘Since this incident we have taken action to reduce the risk of something like this happening again and remain committed to constantly improving our pollution prevention systems.

‘Yorkshire Water operates approximately 1,800 combined sewer overflows across the region and this one incident does not reflect on its overall performance.’

Meanwhile, the agency has published a list of civil sanctions imposed on companies that have breached their environmental permits. Civil sanctions were introduced in 2008 and allow the agency to tackle environmental offences without going to court.

A total of 18 civil sanctions were imposed between 1 January and 31 July, 11 of which were proactive, meaning that the offender informed the agency voluntarily of the breach. In the other seven cases, the agency discovered the breach.

Most of the cases related to a breach of the producer responsibility obligations where companies had failed to take reasonable steps to recover and recycle packaging waste. Firms fined include:

  • Bahlsen Management – £20,000 to the Woodland Trust and £19,800 to the Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust;
  • Cobell, which – £33,723 to the Woodland Trust;
  • Cracker Drinks ¬– £500 to the New Forest Trust;
  • Frobishers Juices – £7,387 to the Woodland Trust;
  • Garden Selections – £3,307, split between the Marine Conservation Society and Dorset Wildlife Trust;
  • Gonzalez Byass – £120,000 to the Woodland Trust;
  • Hameln Pharmaceutical – £35,000 to the Friends of Westonbirt Arboretum;
  • Lamberts Healthcare – £10,000, split between the Sussex Wildlife Trust and Kent Wildlife Trust;
  • Lyme Bay Cider – £11,567 to the British Beekeepers Association;
  • Paperchase – £19,018 to the Woodland Trust;
  • Phaseolus – £3,855 to the How Hill Trust;
  • Probiotics International – £12,331 to Carrymoor Environmental Trust;
  • Syncreon Technology UK – £6,095 to the Wildlife Trust for Bedfordshire Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire; and
  • Trelleborg Holdings UK – £10,619 to the Freshwater Habitats Trust.

The regulator also imposed sanctions for water pollution. Companies involved in these cases were:

  • E and JW Glendinning – £70,000 to the Westcountry Rivers Trust; and
  • FG Palmer and Sons – £5,000 to the Westcountry Rivers Trust.

The final sanctions were for breaching environmental permits, with two firms fined:

  • FG Brewer and Sons – £8,500 to the Westcountry Rivers Trust; and
  • Weststar Holidays – £12,000, split between the National Trust and Marine Conservation Society.

The agency also gave Lime Property Fund a fixed monetary penalty of £300 for breaching its licence conditions under the Water Resources Act 1991.

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