Civils contractor fined for sewage leak that killed 2,400 fish

Fish recovered from Stanground Lode after the sewage leak (Image: Environment Agency)
Fish recovered from Stanground Lode after the sewage leak (Image: Environment Agency)

A court has fined civils contractor Danaher & Walsh and water company Anglian Water a total of £60,000 after a sewage leak killed more than 2,400 fish.

On 27 December 2018, a sewer owned by Anglian Water collapsed in Stanground, Peterborough.

The water company employed contractor Danaher & Walsh to temporarily fix the problem.

Over-pumping system

Danaher & Walsh set up an over-pumping system to pump the sewage back into the drainage system. However, it became blocked with rag and other items that should not be flushed, such as baby wipes. A few days later, it failed, leading to sewage ending up in Stanground Lode.

Neither company reported the incident to the Environment Agency. Instead, a concerned member of the public called the agency’s incident hotline.

Pollution for 1.6km

Environment Agency investigators found that the watercourse had been polluted for 1.6km and that at least 2,413 fish had died. Among the species killed by the sewage were roach, bream, pike and European eel – a species listed as “critically endangered” by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

The Environment Agency said 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 it would have been unable to predict how much rag would be flushed in this time. It said it had never come across a blockage as seen at Stanground in 30 years of operating.

‘Low level of culpability’

Both companies appeared at Peterborough magistrates’ court on 1 June 2022, where they both pleaded guilty. They were charged with causing an illegal sewage discharge between 5 January and 8 January 2019 which polluted Stanground Lode. This is contrary to regulations 12(1)(b) and 38(1)(a) of the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2016.

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 ordered to pay £5,000 in costs.

Yvonne Daly, an environment manager at the Environment Agency in Cambridgeshire, said: “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.”

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