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  • by Trevor Loveday

Severn Trent fined £2m for massive illegal discharge

Severn Trent Water has been fined more than £2m for illegally allowing some 260Ml of raw sewage to discharge into the River Trent between November 2019 and February 2020. 


In a case brought by the Environment Agency at Cannock Magistrates, Stafford, District Judge Kevin Grego fined Severn Trent  £1,072,000 and £1,000,000 plus costs of nearly £16,500. The company had pleaded guilty at a previous hearing to two charges of illegally discharging raw sewage.


The court heard that over the course of the incident about 470Ml of raw sewage was discharged, of which 260Ml was done so in contravention of the conditions of the Environmental Permit.


The court was told that the limit of flow of sewage and rain that the sewage treatment works had to treat before it was permitted to discharge – its so-called Flow to Full Treatment (FFT) – had been altered manually by staff at the Strongford plant with the full knowledge of the site manager. This was a breach of the environmental permit. And Severn Trent Water’s logbooks for the site showed changes to the plant’s FFT were recorded on 18 different dates between November 2019 to February 2020.


The water company explained that the illegal crude sewage discharges from the Strongford plant into the River Trent arose from failure of two of three inlet screw pumps. It told the court that one screw pump had failed in December 2019 due to a gearbox malfunction and replacements were being made in Germany as there was no supplier in the UK. A second pump failed on 14 February 2020 again due to an issue with the gearbox.  The incident was compounded by Storm Dennis which arrived on 15 February 2020.

  

It subsequently took five days to take delivery of an emergency pump dispatched from The Netherlands and to bring the site back into compliance.


Senior environment officer at the Environment Agency, Adam Shipp, who led the investigation, said:  “Severn Trent were fortunate that this incident did not cause a catastrophic pollution in the Trent as the river already had high flows when the discharge occurred.

 

“Our investigation showed that their contingency plans were woefully inadequate. Even though Severn Trent knew Storm Clara and Storm Dennis were about to arrive they did not think to proactively source alternative pumps and get them to site. 


“This is not the sort of response we would expect to see from a professional multi-national company.”


The judge said that Severn Trent’s assessment of the risks were extremely optimistic, adding: “The risk as set out above was real.


“Those who live in the affected area and pay STW to provide clean drinking water and safely treat sewage would not consider it to be otherwise.”

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