Northumbrian Water Ltd (NWL) has been ordered to pay over £33,600 in fines and costs for three separate pollution incidents, including pollution of a Tyne Valley burn with untreated sewage effluent, which bypassed the local sewage treatment works.
The company was sentenced on Monday 23 July at South Tyneside Magistrates’ Court after admitting one charge of causing a discharge of untreated sewage into Smithy Burn at Broomley on 19 August 2016.
Two other similar offences were taken into consideration as part of this case following unpermitted discharges of sewage effluent on 26 June 2015 at both Summerhouse & Killerby Sewage Treatment Works (STW), both near Darlington.
The pollution at Broomley originated from a storm overflow channel. These allow rainwater and sewage effluent to bypass a sewage treatment works in times of heavy rainfall, to avoid the works’ capacity being exceeded. To be lawful, storm overflows should be incorporated into the works’ environmental permit.
According to the Environment Agency, this was not the case at Broomley, since Northumbrian Water’s environmental permit clearly states that discharges to Smithy Burn should consist only of treated sewage effluent.
Chris Bunting, prosecuting for the Environment Agency, told the court that investigations found a build-up of silt had prevented flow from reaching the works, and instead diverted it to the storm overflow. Northumbrian Water’s maintenance inspections hadn’t included a requirement to check a manhole chamber where the blockage would likely have been discovered.
Formal samples were taken from the burn and an ecological survey revealed a thick sewage fungus affecting the watercourse for 100m downstream of the outfall, which had starved the water of oxygen and resulted in the death of freshwater shrimp and midge larvae.
At Summerhouse & Killerby STW’s, the Environment Agency’s inspections found both to be in a poor state of repair with faulty equipment. Rather than discharging treated sewage effluent, at Killerby sampling showed effluent leaving the works was more polluted than where it arrived.
Malcolm Galloway, appearing for NWL told the court that staff were to blame for the faults as they hadn’t followed the company’s inspection procedures, and that NWL has a good compliance record. He also maintained that the storm overflow at Broomley had been permitted because it was included in the permit application made back in 1989.
In sentencing, District Judge Roger Elsey ruled that the company’s culpability was low, but that the additional offences meant the fine had to be increased.
Environment Agency Area Environment Manager, Fiona Morris said:
The incident at Broomley had a significant impact on the ecology of Smithy Burn. This case demonstrates how important it is that water companies and wider regulated industries understand and comply with the conditions by which they are permitted to operate.