Austen Shakespeare

Environment Agency investigates potential river contamination

The Environment Agency and Ofwat have launched an investigation into sewage treatment works, after new checks led to water companies admitting that they could be contaminating rivers and watercourses with unpermitted sewage.

This investigation will involve more than 2000 sewage treatment works, with any company caught breaching their legal permits facing enforcement action, including fines or prosecutions. Fines can be up to 10 per cent of annual turnover for civil cases, or unlimited in criminal proceedings.

Several water companies have now revealed that many of their sewage treatment works may not be compliant. This would mean that water companies are in breach of their permits and failing to meet their legal duties.

EA and Ofwat are now looking into all water and sewerage companies to assess the scale of the problem.

Any company caught breaching these minimum standards will face a range of possible enforcement action.

Emma Howard Boyd, chair of the Environment Agency, said: Any water companies in breach of their permits are acting illegally. This is a major issue of public trust. Water company boards must certify every year that they have adequate resources to fulfil their regulated activities.

“Only now, just before new monitors are installed, have companies reported concerns over potential problems. The EA has begun an immediate investigation of more than 2,000 sewage treatment works and will prosecute where necessary.

“The private sector is under increasing pressure to demonstrate tangible commitments on protecting the environment. This shows why we need robust and well-funded regulation to provide the public, investors and customers with assurances about what is being delivered on the ground. “

Emma continued: “I would like to see the levels of penalties for corporate environmental crime in England go up significantly. More attention should also be paid to the directors of companies that are guilty of repeated, deliberate or reckless breaches of environmental law.

“Such directors should be struck off and in the most grievous cases given custodial sentences.”

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