A High Peak animal feed business was fined (Thursday) £18,000 for discharging polluting waste into the public sewer and causing damage to a treatment works.
J.E Morten Limited, of Whaley Bridge, was prosecuted by United Utilities Water PLC (United Utilities) after a series of inspections by the water company’s staff at the firm’s base on Manchester Road, Tunstead Milton.
The firm pleaded guilty at North Derbyshire Magistrates’ Court in Buxton to five breaches of the Water Industry Act 1991 between 14 April and 2 July 2015. They were also ordered to pay £15,000 towards the cost of the prosecution.
Magistrates heard how, during the period between 14 April and 2 July 2015, Whaley Bridge wastewater treatment works received effluent of exceptionally high strength, with a chemical oxygen demand far in excess of the consented limit agreed with the business.
United Utilities, which runs the treatment works, incurred considerable cost and effort to keep the works running in line with the standards required by the Environment Agency. This included converting a tank onsite to provide additional treatment for the waste.
Despite these efforts, the quality of the treated wastewater was reduced and there was an increase in odour which affected local residents.
J.E Morten Limited was found to be discharging trade effluent to the public sewer with was likely to prejudicially affect the treatment of the contents of the sewer. The firm accepted that further spillages took place in the period of the offences brought before the Court and also accepted that three of the spillages detailed in the charges contributed to the high polluting load at the wastewater treatment works.
The spillages contained a concentrated sugar solution which had a very high Chemical Oxygen Demand, meaning that it exceeded the capacity of the biological processes within the treatment works to process and break down the effluent.
The court also heard that J.E.Morten Limited had previous convictions for breaches of their trade effluent consent. In September 2014 before the Magistrates in Buxton they pleaded guilty to three offences of exceeding their trade effluent consent by discharging material containing high amounts of nitrogen.
In mitigation, Counsel acting on behalf of the business said that his clients had taken steps and invested substantial amounts in seeking to remedy the problems which led to the offences and that there had been little or no financial gain to the business as a result of the offending.
In setting the fine, magistrates accepted the submissions put forward by \United Utilities that the offences should properly be categorised as Reckless. This was put on the basis of the history of previous convictions and the nature and extent of the offences admitted by the business. The Court found that the Defendant was reckless as they had failed to put in place and enforce such systems as could reasonably be expected in all the circumstances to avoid commission of the offences.
Speaking after the court case United Utilities Wastewater Area Business Manager, Keith Haslett, said:
“In this case there was a clear link between the illegal discharges from the firm and the impact on our treatment works.”
“We are society’s last line of defence for the environment, and uncontrolled discharges to our sewers can affect the delicate biological organisms which are an essential part of our treatment process. In this instance it caused problems which were costly, disruptive for our customers and also bad for the environment.”
Keith added: “We would much rather work with our business customers than take action in court. However, there are occasions where we have no option but to step in to protect our customers, assets and the environment.”