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Severn Trent gets heavy fine for hazardous chemical leak

Severn Trent Water has been fined £350,000 for polluting the River Amber in an incident that left tens of thousands of fish dead.

On 19 April 2018, at Derby Crown Court, sitting in Nottingham, Severn Trent Water was fined £350,000, ordered to pay Environment Agency costs of £68,003 as well as a victim surcharge of £120.

An estimated 30,000 dead fish and 5km of damaged ecology along the River Amber led to proceedings brought against Severn Trent Water Limited following a pollution incident.

On 1 November 2015, the Environment Agency received reports of several hundred dead fish in the River Amber in Derbyshire and, following a search of the area, and discussions with Severn Trent Water employees, the source of the pollution was found to be a release of sodium hydroxide from the Ogston water treatment works, operated by Severn Trent Water, into the river.

Severn Trent Water identified that a leak within a chamber at the treatment works had led to the contents becoming contaminated with sodium hydroxide, which was then washed through the road gully into the River Amber via an outfall pipe.

The pollution had a significant negative impact on the fish and invertebrate populations within the River Amber. The Environment Agency has been monitoring the natural recovery of the river ecology over the last two years. Monitoring has shown that while there has been some improvements, something resembling a full recovery is not expected until the summer of this year.

In passing sentence, His Honour Judge Smith said: "It beggars belief that a company of the size and expertise of Severn Trent Water had no policy whatsoever in respect of potential incidents arising in connection with their dosing chamber, either at this treatment works or indeed at any others throughout the UK.

"To have no policy whatsover when dangerous chemicals could have leaked out in any number of ways is highly negligent. The size and success of Severn Trent makes it even more astonishing."

In mitigation, Severn Trent expressed regret and apologises for the incident. The company co-operated fully with the investigation and contributed £228,000 to the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust.

Speaking after the case, an Environment Agency officer involved with the investigation said: "This is a significant fine imposed on Severn Trent Water Limited for causing pollution. I hope it sends a strong message that it is far more cost effective to avoid these incidents, as we will continue to take companies and individuals to task where they ignore their responsibilities.

"Pollution causes damage to the environment and river ecology. In this case sodium hydroxide with a concentration of 20 per cent amounts to a hazardous chemical and the leak affected 5km of the River Amber and killed approximately 30,000 fish and damaged other wildlife."

Author: Robin Hackett, Deputy Editor, WWT and WET News
Topic: Policy & Regulation
Tags: Severn Trent Water , environment agency , fish , chemicals , pollution

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