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Water Company Fined £1.2 million over Pollution

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Anglian Water, a water company that operates in the East of England, has been hit with two separate court cases this week. Fines come as the company caused four pollution incidents in watercourses as a result of system and maintenance failures. This follows high profile incidents this summer with raw sewage being dumped causing widespread criticism.

Anglian Water was ordered to pay £871,000 after the blockages and broken infrastructure sparked multiple incidents of pollution in the regions of Cambridgeshire, Buckinghamshire, and Northamptonshire during a five-month period, between May and September 2019.

A series of process failures

The government has listed a series of process failures including: “reporting delays, faulty screening and a general breakdown in planning and maintenance”, all of which sparked harmful blockages and pollution. After one particular incident, a subsequent biological survey showed “dead aquatic invertebrates for 1,500 metres,” the government said. The court also heard how at one particular site “an unchecked build-up of ‘unflushables’ such as cotton buds and sanitary pads caused a blockage resulting in discharge of settled sludge into the treated sewage.”

Although the site was originally fitted with a screen to prevent blockages, it was removed in 2018. The court heard that the company didn’t implement increased cleaning nor take additional steps to reduce the risk of blockages caused by the removal of the screen.

On September 12, Anglian Water was also sentenced to pay £37,605.13 in costs at Loughborough Magistrates.

The Cambridge Magistrates Court heard a separate court case whereby the water company was ordered to pay £350,000 after a pumped sewer at Bourn Brook at Caldecott, Cambridgeshire, burst for the sixth time in several years. 

In September 2019, officers visited the site and found ammonia as well as low oxygen levels in the water, posing a potential risk to wildlife at the site. 

Insufficient methods to stop water pollution 

Despite efforts from the company to stop the polluted water from spreading, its process proved insufficient and 4km of the watercourse was affected for at least five days.

The sewer is only 1.5km long, and since 2004 it’s already burst 6 times. The court found that “Anglian Water had been too slow in putting in place potential mitigation measures.” This is due to the fact that the company located air valves that were designed to reduce stress on the sewer – after the incident took place. However, these valves had already been in place for at least 25 years.

An Anglian Water Spokesperson said: “We take our duty of care to the environment incredibly seriously and deeply regret any negative impact when things go wrong.

 “We work tirelessly to protect and enhance the environment, so it is particularly distressing when incidents like this occur. We are investing £800million to help protect and improve the environment and are determined to achieve our zero pollutions goal.”

Guilty of causing “poisonous, noxious, or polluting matter to enter inland freshwaters without an environmental permit”

The court found Anglian Water guilty of causing “poisonous, noxious, or polluting matter to enter inland freshwaters without an environmental permit.” They were sentenced to pay £28,025.66 in costs as well as a victim surcharge of £181.

Sir James Bevan, Chief Executive of the Environment Agency, said: “Serious pollution is a serious crime and I welcome these sentences from the courts.

“The Environment Agency will pursue any water company that fails to uphold the law or protect nature, and will continue to press for the strongest possible penalties for those which do not.”

Final thought

Having admitted to poisonous, noxious and polluting matter to enter inland freshwaters without an environmental permit, in two separate court cases, it’s no surprise that Anglian Water has been hard hit with a £1,221,000 fine. 

England’s rivers are contaminated by a “chemical cocktail” of sewage, agriculture and road pollution, and this is just one step in the direction of cleaner water.

Each person in the UK consumes approximately 140 litres of water a day for washing, drinking and cooking. Household water is pretreated to ensure its safety, but increased pollution requires more intensive treatment, which raises household bills.

Not only that but higher levels of contamination threaten water sources that are essential to the survival of wildlife, the environment and the food system

According to the Wildlife Trusts, rising pollution levels place 10% of freshwater and wetland species at risk of extinction. In Wales and England, 38% of fish health checks are failed due to disease caused by pollution. 

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