The Environment Agency said it was disappointed – it wished the fines had been higher.
On 27th December 2018, a sewer owned by Anglian Water collapsed in Stanground, Peterborough. The water company called in Danaher & Walsh to provide a temporary fix.
The civil engineering contractor set up an over-pumping system to pump the sewage back into the drainage system. But it became blocked with rag and items that shouldn’t be flushed, like baby wipes. A few days later, it failed, leading to sewage ending up in Stanground Lode.
It took a call from a concerned member of the public to make the authorities aware of the pollution incident.
Environment Agency investigators found that the watercourse had been polluted for 1.6km and that at least 2,413 fish died, including roach, bream, pike and critically endangered European eel.
The Environment Agency believes that untreated sewage could have been discharging into the river for up to 10 hours. Levels of ammonia monitored downstream from the discharge were found to be 200 times higher than average water quality standards.
In mitigation, Danaher & Walsh said that it could not have predicted how much rag would be flushed in this time. It said that it had never come across such a blockage in 30 years of operating.
Both companies appeared at Peterborough magistrates’ court on 1st June 2022, where they both pleaded guilty to breaches of regulations 12(1)(b) and 38(1)(a) of the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2016.
To the disappointment of the Environment Agency, the judge deemed there was a low level of culpability from both defendants. Anglian Water was fined £50,000 and told to pay £24,387.58 in costs. Danaher & Walsh was fined £10,000 and told to pay £5,000 in costs.
Yvonne Daly, an environment manager at the Environment Agency in Cambridgeshire, said: “The Environment Agency takes such devastating pollution incidents incredibly seriously. Anyone caught breaching environmental laws faces enforcement action, up to and including prosecution.
“We are disappointed with the fine issued in this case and would like to see higher penalties to really deter polluters from future offences. Both companies in this case failed in their environmental duties, leaving to a devastating impact on the local biodiversity. Moreover, they failed to notify the Environment Agency when something had gone wrong.”