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Northumbrian Water fined £10,000 for sewage pollution

Northumbrian Water has been fined £10,000 and ordered to pay costs of £3,802 by Newcastle Magistrates for causing sewage pollution to a stretch of the Ouse Burn in Ponteland. The company was also ordered to pay a victim surcharge of £1,000.

Northumbrian Water said the blockage causing the sewage leak was cleared within minutesNorthumbrian Water said the blockage causing the sewage leak was cleared within minutes

In March 2012, the court heard how a member of the public had contacted the Environment Agency (EA) to report that there was raw sewage in the Ouse Burn at Callerton, Ponteland. An EA officer tried to attend the scene that evening but failed to locate the incident because of fading daylight.

More officers visited the burn the following morning, where they located the source of pollution, 200m downstream of Armstrong Street, Callerton. The discharge was from a combined sewer outfall with a flap valve next to Pipe Bridge over the Ouse Burn, which was believed to be part of the Northumbrian Water Ltd sewer network.

The officer saw that the discharge consisted of raw sewage, including faeces, sewage litter, sewage fungus and effluent. The majority of the discharge was a grey colour with a strong sewage smell. Further downstream, officers found grey fungus across the whole bed of the Ouse Burn, while the water was clean and clear upstream of the discharge.

The environment officers contacted Northumbrian Water, and when they attended the scene, formal samples of the discharge were taken. Officers also took field readings of dissolved oxygen in the watercourse using a dissolved oxygen meter.

The sample taken 5m upstream of the discharge confirmed biological oxygen demand of less than 2.9mg/l. The sample from the discharge point confirmed biological oxygen demand levels of 450mg/l. Following investigations in the local area the officers concluded that the pollution was most likely to be from the sewer pipe. 

In July last year representatives for Northumbrian Water were interviewed under caution by the Environment Agency.

Northumbrian Water said staff found the blockage in the pipe that caused the sewage to leak at 1.10pm, which was cleared within minutes. The manhole cover that should have been over the outlet was missing and the company had been unaware of the existence of this outlet. This particular outlet had not been shown on plans provided when Northumbrian had taken over responsibility for water and sewage from the local authority.

Northumbrian Water accepted there had been a discharge from the outlet but argued that the degree of pollution caused by this alone, did not cause a category one pollution incident, which, on a scale of 1 to 4, is the worst level of pollution. 

The outlet at the Ouse Burn has now been permanently stopped so that there cannot be a repetition of this incident.

Another investigation in November found that the sites downstream of the discharge had recovered since March, indicating that a pig farm was not the cause of the impacts on the burn observed in March and the discharge from the Northumbrian Water outlet was the main cause of those impacts. 

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