Northumbrian Water were fined £2,000 last week (Friday 23rd November 2007) at Durham Magistrates Court after pleading guilty to polluting Belmont Burn, a small tributary of the River Wear.
Northumbrian Water was also ordered to pay costs of £1,758.84 to the Environment Agency which brought the case.
Trevor Cooper, prosecuting, told the court that on the 24th February 2007, the Environment Agency was notified by the farmer at Low Grange Farm that raw sewage was running through Belmont Burn.
When inspecting the site, an Environment Agency officer observed that water in the Burn was milky in colour, there was a strong smell of sewage and there was sewage litter such as tampons and sanitary towels in the Burn. Following investigations by Northumbrian Water the source of the sewage appeared to be a blockage in their combined sewer overflow. The blockage then caused untreated sewage to discharge into the Belmont Burn during dry weather.
An ecologist’s report into the pollution indicated that chronic ecological damage had been caused to 200 metres of the watercourse and conditions were consistent with persistent long term pollution by sewage.
Commenting after the case, Rob Carr, environment officer at the Environment Agency said: “ this pollution incident was not the first Northumbrian Water had caused in the Belmont Burn. They had received warnings about pollution incidents in the past.
In mitigation, Northumbrian Water said that the blockage to the sewer had been caused by a garden spade which had either been deliberately or accidentally put into the sewer by an unknown person. In a typical month, it was said that they attend around 300 blocked sewers and they promote the ‘Bag it and bin it’ campaign to educate the public not to put unsuitable items into the sewer system.