A case brought by the Environment Agency has resulted in a £45,000 fine for South West Water, for breaching environmental controls at a sewage treatment plant. The incident was attributed mainly to a broken screening device, which led to discharges containing excessive pollutants between May 2013 and May 2014.
The treatment plant in question was located at Dunkeswell, near Honiton, said to have been scheduled for a number of improvements when the excessive discharges occurred.
Five occasions were cited in the case, where waste entering the stream exceeded the limits specified by the EA permit. Company personnel had apparently visited the site on several occasions, expressing concern about the conditions. The court took consideration of the number of these visits and the steps that had been taken to rectify problems.
SWW had already admitted breaching the agreed limits at an earlier hearing at Exeter Crown Court. The firm was fined £45,000 with costs of £5,700 and a £240 victim surcharge by Judge Phillip Wassall at a second hearing at Taunton Crown Court.
Mischka Hewins of the EA said there had been on-going problems with sludge rising in the settlement tank, which were specifically raised on over 19 occasions and led to knock-on problems with the filters. “The inlet screen, which is of fundamental importance to the site, was also not working,” she said.
This would have led to an excessive sludge build-up – too much for the filter system to handle, which was repeatedly cleared by SWW staff. She said SWW should have noticed that problems were leading to likely breaches of the permit and taken appropriate remedial action.
The court heard the plant had been identified as in need of improvement in 2007 and by 2013 was due for investment under the firm’s Glidepath programme.
Population growth had also put pressure on the Dunkeswell site.