South West Water fined £16K for sewage discharge

South West Water has to pay £20,226 in fines and costs after pleading guilty to four offences of discharging noxious and polluting matter from Camels Head sewage treatment works in Plymouth into the Tamar Estuary.

The case was brought by the Environment Agency after a sample taken by the firm on 10 February from the discharge point, at Weston Mill lake, which is used by the Ministry of Defence to train divers, had contained four times the limit for suspended solids and a biochemical oxygen demand around twice the maximum limit.

Water firms are supposed to alert the Environment Agency to effluent quality failures within 24 hours. South West Water didn’t report the problem for six days and its records show problems at the site for two weeks before the 16 February. That meant the Environment Agency couldn’t warn the MoD about the problem as quickly as it should have.

The firm told an agency inspector that inlet screens were faulty, letting rags and other debris into the settlement tanks, reducing their effectiveness. Five of its 16 aeration paddles were also broken. SWW said vandals had also thrown objects into the final treatment tanks, exacerbating the problem.

The Environment Agency said the company should have addressed the problems with the inlet screens sooner.

At Plymouth magistrates court yesterday (16 April), SWW pleaded guilty, was fined a total of £16,000, plus costs of £4,211, and was ordered to pay a victim surcharge of £15,000.