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Southern fined £187,000 over Worthing pollution

Southern Water has been hit with a fine of £160,000 and ordered to pay costs of £27,000 in relation to a major sewage pollution incident at its East Worthing wastewater treatment works.

The Environment Agency prosecuted Southern over the incident which caused 40 million litres of untreated sewage to be discharged from the works over a period of two days in September 2012, and resulted in the closure of beaches in East Sussex for six days. After being found guilty in August, the utility was sentenced yesterday (Sep 22) at Chichester Crown Court.

The earlier court hearing established Court that at 9.30pm on 1 September 2012, Southern Water’s East Worthing sewage treatment works suffered a failure of three pumps at the premises. This resulted in a huge volume of untreated sewage, around 220 litres per second, being continuously discharged through an emergency short sea outfall about half a mile out to sea. The site is permitted by the Environment Agency to discharge treated effluent nearly three miles out to sea through its long sea outfall.

Southern Water notified the Environment Agency of the incident four hours later, and explained that all three of the pumps at the works had failed, causing the effluent to be discharged straight out to sea without being first screened as required by the permit issued to them by the Environment Agency.

The water company was unable to repair the pumps for 45 hours, leading to around 40 million litres of untreated sewage flowing into the sea throughout this period. The Environment Agency opened its incident room in Worthing to co-ordinate its response to this major incident and staff worked around the clock to deal with the emergency. Officers also increased their monitoring of bathing water quality at the affected beaches throughout the duration of the incident.

When interviewed by the Environment Agency about the incident, Southern Water explained that it was caused by a build-up of debris in the final effluent pumps, exacerbated by the failure of an important level sensor. The site’s main screens were removed at the end of 2011 and only inferior, coarser bar screens were installed at the time of the incident.

Chris Wick of the Environment Agency said: “We are pleased that the court decided to impose a significant financial penalty on the company today. The incident had a serious impact on local businesses, tourism and the public as a whole following the closure of local beaches for several days.

“We acknowledge that the company worked hard to repair the treatment works after the incident, but the fact remains that this was an avoidable incident, caused by the lack of adequate screens, and the lack of back up for a key monitoring sensor.

We take these types of incidents very seriously and will do everything within our powers to safeguard the environment and people affected, and that includes bringing those who harm the environment to account for their actions.”

Judge Christopher Parker QC said: “The company knew there was a foreseeable risk of an unauthorised discharge for a nine month period due to the lack of adequate screening of untreated sewage at the treatment works. Therefore they should have been aware of the possibility of a serious failure at the site, were negligent and should have had adequate back up systems in place.”

It was noted however that the company had since taken steps to address the problems on site and measures put in place to reduce the risk of another incident occurring at their site in the future.

Author: James Brockett,
Topic: Policy & Regulation , Sewer Networks
Tags: Southern Water , environment agency , sewage

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