Thames Water fined a record-breaking £1M for sewage pollution
Thames Water has been fined £1M by St Albans Crown Court for polluting the Grand Union Canal in Hertfordshire with sewage. The record-breaking fine is the largest ever for a water company in a prosecution brought by the Environment Agency (EA).
The EA brought the prosecution after sewage from Thames Water’s Tring treatment plant leaked into the canal’s Wendover Arm in Hertfordshire on several occasions between July 2012 and April 2013. Last May at Watford Magistrates' Court, Thames Water pleaded guilty to two charges under the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2010, relating to the repeated discharges.
The court heard that poorly performing inlet screens caused equipment at the works to block, leading to sewage debris and sewage sludge being discharged into the canal. The inlet screens should take out the majority of sewage debris referred to as ‘rag’ from the process, but the screens had repeatedly failed in this case.
Routine samples of the discharge taken on January 31, 2013 contained high levels of iron and aluminium, and showed a high chemical oxygen demand.
The EA had received complaints from the Canal and Rivers Trust and from the general public about pollution in the canal. Officers attended the site on several occasions, seeing sewage debris including sanitary products and ear buds in the vicinity of the outfall. On one occasion, officers worked with Thames Water to arrange for aeration to be installed at the outfall into the Grand Union Canal as a precautionary measure to increase the levels of oxygen in the water.
Thames Water explained to the court that it invested £30,000 on replacing the inlet screens at Tring. It co-operated with the EA in its investigation, and had taken steps to avoid further such incidents. There was no financial motivation for or gain from the offences.
Sentencing Thames Water yesterday (January 4), St Albans Crown Court also ordered the company to pay costs of £18,113.08 and a victim surcharge of £120.
Explaining why the fine was so large, HHJ Bright QC stated: “The time has now come for the courts to make clear that very large organisations such as [Thames Water] really must bring about the reforms and improvements for which they say they are striving because if they do not the sentences passed upon them for environmental offences will be sufficiently severe to have a significant impact on their finances.”
Emily Rowland, EA environment officer, said: "We welcome the court's decision to penalise Thames Water for serious breaches of its environmental permit, which led to pollution of the Grand Union Canal. 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 holding to account those whose actions put the environment at risk."
Following yesterday’s court case, Thames Water said: “We take our responsibilities to the environment extremely seriously and very much regret this incident. We have since invested heavily in Tring sewage works to further improve resilience and protect the Grand Union Canal.
“We have also reviewed our procedures to reduce the chance of anything like this happening again, including upgrades to the inlet screens which were the cause of the pollution when they became blocked with wipes and other non-flushable items.”
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