SEPA water pollution prosecutions demonstrate environmental compliance is non-negotiable

Posted: Tuesday 27th February 2018

Compliance with the law on Scotland's environment is non-negotiable. That was the message recently from Scottish Environment Protection Agency Chief Executive, Terry A'Hearn, who commented on two recent prosecutions led by the agency relating to water pollution.

Recently, Scottish Water was fined £17,000 for discharges from their Dunswood Sewage Treatment plant, North Lanarkshire, into the Red Burn in Cumbernauld. The farm partnership David McCreery and Sons, was fined £1,200 in January for discharging slurry and silage into the Gifford Water, East Lothian. The prosecutions highlight the importance of managing farm effluents and maintaining critical water treatment infrastructure.

Scottish Environment Protection Agency Chief Executive, Terry A'Hearn, said:

"Both these incidents caused damage to those water bodies, both these incidents caused fish mortalities, and both these incidents should not have happened. So we're disappointed that they took place but we're pleased that both organisations have been held to account.

"This is at the core of our One Planet Prosperity regulatory strategy. Businesses and organisations that do the right thing for the environment will be supported by SEPA, they'll be helped to keep doing the right thing and do even better. Those that get it wrong will be held to account in this way.

"We now look forward to working with both organisations to ensure that their environmental management improves, these incidents don't reoccur and they can move on and become top class environmental stewards in their own right."

Scottish Water

Scottish Water was fined £17,000 at Airdrie Sheriff Court on 7 February for causing sewage to discharge to the Red Burn from Dunnswood Sewage Treatment Works, Cumbernauld in July 2014.

Between 13 and 14 July 2014 a failure occurred at the Dunnswood Sewage Treatment Works which resulted in the release of an estimated two million litres of untreated sewage into the Red Burn. Scottish Water reported the discharge to the SEPA and environment protection officers launched an investigation into the cause.

It was discovered that macerators, which are required to reduce solids to small pieces, had become blocked and material backed up when the Sewage Treatment Works was unmanned. Sewage was then discharged via an emergency overflow outflow pipe into the Red Burn.

This should have triggered telemetry warning signals to be sent to Scottish Water's control room and raised the alarm, (a requirement of the site's licence), however this did not happen and, as a result, the operator did not immediately send staff to rectify the issue.

The incident resulted in a number of fish mortalities across the Red Burn and in the Bonny Water which is used for fishing.

Callum Waddell, SEPA's reporting officer, said:

"Due to Scottish Water's system not working as intended, and as required by the site's Water Use licence there was an unauthorised discharge over a period of approximately 17 hours which had an ecological impact on the water environment.

'The impact of this incident was evident for approximately 2.5km downstream of Dunnswood Sewage Treatment Works. This unauthorised discharge, along with the low flow in the watercourse due to a recent dry spell of weather, resulted in a number of fish being killed.

'SEPA is very clear that compliance with regulations designed to protect the environment is not optional. If telemetry systems had been working properly then Scottish Water would have received the alarm and sent an operative to the site to rectify matters and ensure that the sewage was treated within the Sewage Treatment Works rather than being discharged untreated into the Red Burn. It was this failure that led to the report to the Procurator Fiscal, and a successful prosecution."

David McCreery and Sons

David McCreery and Sons, the farm partnership, which runs Yester Mains Farm, pled guilty at Edinburgh Sheriff Court on 18 January to repeatedly discharging slurry and silage to unnamed tributaries of the Gifford Water, causing pollution to the receiving waters and harm to fish and invertebrate populations. The incident was investigated by SEPA and a report sent to the Procurator Fiscal.

SEPA first became aware of the incident when a local resident reported on 22 September 2014 that the Gifford Water was discoloured (dark green/brown), foaming and smelt strongly of slurry.

SEPA officers began an investigation and during an inspection of the slurry store at Yester Mains Farm a large pond of slurry was discovered under the store's drainage valve and, from there, flowing downhill into an unnamed tributary of the Gifford Water.

They found that silage effluent of slurry was discovered under the store's drainage valve and, from there, flowing downhill into an unnamed tributary of the Gifford Water. had pooled at the rear of the farm silage pit, forming a large pond which was running downhill into another tributary. The bays of the silage pit were overfilled and silage was being stored outwith internal drainage channels, preventing effective drainage into the silage effluent tank.

Various structural and operational issues with the silo had led to the silage effluent escaping to the tributary, including cracks in the rear wall of the silo. These cracks were repaired and the problem of the overfilling of the silage bays was resolved, following an enforcement notice served by SEPA.

A further SEPA inspection on 30 September 2014 found that the slurry had stopped discharging to the tributary but silage continued to do so until 8 October 2014. Temporary measures were put in place to prevent any recurrence and were confirmed as having been put in place by 1 April 2015. The issue with the drainage channels remained after the period of the enforcement notice; all works were confirmed as having been completed in September 2016.

A survey carried out by SEPA ecologists demonstrated that the slurry and silage effluent had resulted in a significant volume of polluting substances being released into the water environment, causing serious pollution to the receiving waters and fish fatalities. They concluded that the dead fish in the Gifford Water are likely to have died as a result of the slurry spill, due to a severe drop in dissolved oxygen to levels which were lethal to salmonids.

Pamela Mackay, SEPA's reporting officer, said:

"The discharge of slurry and silage effluent from Yester Farm Dairies resulted in a serious pollution incident. The silage pollution could have been avoided if the correct storage practices had been followed and the silo had been maintained. This case highlights the importance of ensuring all farm effluents are managed appropriately to ensure they do not escape into the environment.

"SEPA is very clear that compliance with regulations designed to protect the environment is not optional. The failure of David McCreery and Sons to do so led to the report to the Procurator Fiscal, and today's successful prosecution.

"As well as the impact on the environment this incident also affected members of the local community, who were very distressed after witnessing a number of dead fish and fish struggling to breathe."

Sara Shaw, Head of the Wildlife and Environmental Crime Unit said:

"David McCreery and Sons failed to meet their responsibility to the environment and were responsible for a serious pollution incident.

"The silage effluent and slurry which escaped separately from their farm led to the death of many fish in the Gifford Water."

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