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Northumbrian fined nearly £500,000 for drinking water offences

Northumbrian Water has been fined £499,725 after pleading guilty to the supply of water unfit for human consumption.

At Peterlee Magistrate’s Court on 10 January, the company was ordered to pay the fine and costs of £32,792.65, which were agreed out of court. A victim's surcharge of £170 was applied.

The offences arose in December 2016 when water with a taste and odour was supplied from South Moor Service Reservoir in Burnhope, Durham, which serves 10,000 consumers in County Durham.

The event followed maintenance work on the reservoir that required the internal application and curing of an epoxy coating material. The curing period did not match the requirements in the instructions for use and, when the reservoir was returned to supply, caused taste and odour issues for consumers.

Consumers described the water as tasting like medicine, plastic, chemical or metallic.

Northumbrian Water pleaded guilty to the supply of water unfit for human consumption and for an offence arising from not following the manufacturer’s instruction for use of a product.

The Inspectorate was critical of the lack of supervision and control of those carrying out the work and the lack of adequate checks on water quality prior to returning the reservoir to service.

The charges were brought by the Drinking Water Inspectorate (DWI) under Section 70 of the Water Industry Act 1991 (as amended) and Regulation 33(3)(b).

In response, DWI chief inspector Marcus Rink said: "This was an event that should not have happened. Corners were cut in carrying out the work and inadequate scrutiny did not identify this.
"Consumers experienced water with an unpleasant taste and odour which is likely to have been detected had adequate checks been carried out before the reservoir was put back into service.

"This prosecution acts as a reminder to companies of their ultimate responsibility for drinking water quality at all times. We are content that the court has recognised the seriousness of this event."

Northumbrian Water assets and assurance director Ceri Jones told The Chronicle: "We are very sorry for what has happened and would like to apologise to the people who were affected by this incident.

“It is important to stress that whilst a small number of customers did experience an unpleasant taste and odour with the water supplied, there was never a risk to health to anyone as a result of this incident.

“As a company we pride ourselves on providing great quality drinking water for our customers and it’s only right that the DWI hold us to account when these standards slip.

“As soon as we became aware of customers’ concerns we acted to put this right and ensure our normal very high standards were restored.

“We have learned valuable lessons from the incident, which happened in 2016, and have carried out a full and comprehensive review of our procedures and processes and implemented our learnings from it.

“No similar incidents have occurred since and our learnings have been shared with other water companies with best practice guidelines that have been developed to ensure something like this does not happen again.”

Author: Robin Hackett, editor, WWT
Topic: Policy & Regulation , Drinking water quality
Tags: Northumbrian Water , Drinking Water Inspectorate , drinking water quality , regulation , fines

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