EA issues effluent discharge compliance waiver to help utilities cope with chemicals shortage


The Environment Agency has published a regulatory waiver exempting water firms from the need to comply with the usual permit conditions that apply to effluent discharge treatment.

The measure was declared to be a response to supply chain disruption attributable to Brexit, COVID-19 and “other unavoidable supply chain failures”. At the time, industry representative group Water UK said it was “currently experiencing some disruption to the supply in England of ferric sulphate, a chemical used at some drinking and wastewater treatment sites.”

“This issue has arisen due to a shortage of HGV drivers in the UK. There is no shortage of ferric sulphate in factories; the issue is solely one of distribution.”

A regulatory position statement published by the EA on 6 September said the waiver only applies to water and sewerage company discharges from WwTW that are unable to comply because of the aforementioned problems.

The statement compels firms to prioritise appropriately, and use whatever supplies remain to treat the most polluting discharge.

And any wastewater firm that wants to make use of the waiver requires prior approval from Defra.

EA guidance on the government website says: “You must contact your Environment Agency water company account manager if you think you will not be able to comply with your permit. You must contact them when you have at least 2 weeks’ supply of chemicals left and you are unlikely to get enough further supplies.”

A statement from the Chemical Business Association (CBA) on 8 September said 96% of its members were experiencing issues with road haulage in the UK (compared to 62% in a June 2021 survey) and 78% have similar issues in Europe.

Why is there a shortage of HGV drivers?
The CBA website explained:

“The problem results from there being an ever-increasing demand for transport at the same time as the number of drivers are continually falling – primarily due to an aging workforce that is not being replaced as quickly as they retire, drivers who leave the industry to work elsewhere, or return to their home countries as the result of Brexit and Covid-19.

Levels of pay are also a factor, but a poor perception of the profession, lack of facilities, and difficult working conditions have also created issues in retaining existing drivers as well as attracting and recruiting young people and women into the profession.