Oil from a waste treatment plant in Ipswich polluted four miles of the River Orwell and contaminated 12 swans, one of which died.
Ipswich Magistrates’ Court heard today (Tues 1) that the company responsible had failed to manage and operate its waste oil treatment site under the terms of its permit.
Eco Oil Ltd was fined a total of £30,000 and ordered to pay full costs of £6,569 as well as a victim surcharge of £120.
The pollution in July 2012 cost the company’s insurers £169,000 to clean up.
Mrs Miriam Tordoff, prosecuting for the Environment Agency, said the company had failed to follow its own procedures and on or about 8 July allowed oil to escape from its interceptor tank, run across the concrete yard and into a surface water drain outside the site entrance. The drain emptied into the river.
“Eco Oil failed to notify us of the incident on the day it happened and failed to follow its own management system,” she told magistrates.
Part of the River Orwell about 800m from the site is protected as it has numerous conservation designations for birds and wetland including SPA (Special Protection Area), RAMSAR (protected conservation site) and SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest)
The pollution was discovered during a routine patrol of the river by the Felixstowe Volunteer Coast Patrol Rescue Service. The Harbour Master, Environment Agency and other agencies were then notified.
Mrs Tordoff explained to the court that the interceptor tank was used to separate oil from other contaminants including water. This is done using an interceptor or separator, which is a large tank usually situated underground. Over time the oil floats to the top and the water and other contaminants sink allowing the oil to be skimmed off. The Site’s drainage system also runs into the interceptor.
Company employees told Agency officers that the interceptor tank had been overwhelmed by the heavy rain. The liquid waste being stored including oil had mix with the rain and overtopped out of manhole covers above the interceptor tank. No contingency plans had been made for heavy rainfall around the date of the pollution even though the company’s own operating procedures stated they should be.
After the hearing Environment Agency officer Adrian Sherman said:
The company failed to check the weather and the site was unmanned at a time when heavy rainfall was predicted.
The effect on the river was serious but could have been avoided altogether. The port authority acted quickly and because of this the oil was contained to prevent it from affecting downstream protected habitats.
Magistrates heard that Eco Oil, which has a previous caution for an environmental offence, had since reviewed its procedures and upgraded its equipment.
Chairman of the bench Mr Fletcher said:
In considering the sentence we accept the incident occurred during unusual heavy rain but the company acted swiftly and effectively to clean up and paid for remedial work without cost to the public purse.
They have also improved their practices and procedures at considerable cost, however, significant environmental damage was caused to areas close to the SSSI as well as damage to wildlife.
The incident occurred due to failure of established procedures.
Eco Oil pleaded guilty to:
- On or about 08 July 2012, at Eco Oil Ltd, Ipswich Terminal, Waste Oil Treatment Facility, Cliff Quay, Ipswich, Suffolk, IP3 0BE, you did cause poisonous, noxious or polluting matter to enter inland freshwaters, namely the River Orwell, without being authorised by an environmental permit.
Contrary to Regulation 38(1)(a) and Regulation 12(1)(b) of the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2010. Fined £15,000
- On or about 08 July 2012, at Eco Oil Ltd, Ipswich Terminal, Waste Oil Treatment Facility, Cliff Quay, Ipswich, Suffolk, IP3 0BE, you being the holder of Environmental Permit number EP3095EK, failed to comply with condition 1.1.1 (a) of the said Permit in that you failed to manage and operate the activities: In accordance with a written management system that identifies and minimises risks of pollution.
Contrary to Regulation 38(2) of the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2010. Fined £15,000
Published: 10 April 2014
From: Environment Agency