There have been a number of recent prosecutions brought by the Environment Agency against water companies for pollution offences.
Thames Water Utilities Limited, Britain’s largest water company, pleaded guilty at Croydon Crown Court to a single count of causing pollution to enter controlled waters by allowing a large quantity of industrial strength chlorine to spill into the River Wandle from its Beddington Sewage Treatment Works near Mitcham, South London in September 2007. The chlorine had been released from the sewage plant during a cleaning operation of its treatment plant. The company was fined £125,000 and ordered to pay over £20,000 clean up and investigation costs. As one might expect, the company has several previous convictions arising from incidents involving chemicals at other sewage works.
United Utilities was fined £10,000 and ordered to pay costs for discharging raw sewage into a tributary of Bushburn Brook, Langho. The pollution occurred in March 2008 when a sewer partially collapsed, reducing its carrying capacity and causing untreated sewage backed up in the sewer pipe to be discharged via a storm overflow into the water. United Utilities had no systems in place to alert them to the problem at this particular location when it occurred. Two earlier incidents in November 2007 and February 2008 when untreated sewage was discharged into the same watercourse, were also taken into consideration by the court, and it was accepted that the Company had not taken all appropriate measures following the earlier incidents to investigate the condition of the sewer.
Finally, Southern Water were fined at Sevenoaks Magistrates Court for polluting a pond on a Tunbridge Wells nature reserve with sewage in April 2008. Samples taken of the water in the pond showed that the pollutant was a quarter of the strength of raw sewage and that ammonia levels were almost five times a fatal dose for wildlife. Electronic equipment at the Juniper Close pumping station had alerted the company to a pump failure but an alarm to notify them that effluent in storage tanks at the pumping station was at dangerously high levels had not been activated. The company had taken over responsibility for the pumping station in 2006 but they had overlooked whether the alarms had been set correctly. The company was fined £12,000 and ordered to pay costs.