Environmental Safety Work Causes Pollution In Bucks Watercourse


A company which pumped water contaminated with silt and oil into a brook while trying to improve the environmental safety at a service station – killing bullhead fish, a European protected species, and freshwater shrimp in the process – has been fined £12,000 at Wycombe Magistrates’ Court on Tuesday (22nd April, 2008).

Williams (Southern) Ltd, of Langage Business Park Plymouth, which was contracted to refurbish underground fuel storage tanks at the Shell Cressex service station in Bourne End, Bucks, admitted to pumping the contaminated water into the Abbotsbrook, a tributary of the River Thames in Bourne End, on 20 July 2006 in breach of the Water Resources Act 1991.

District Judge English heard that the Environment Agency was called to the stream in Bourne End on 14 July 2006 after local residents reported seeing what they thought was diesel in the brook.

Environment officers helped to stop the pollution spreading by using booms across the brook and absorbent pads before tracing it back to the Shell Cressex service station. Using a site plan, they found that there was a culverted stream running under the site which discharged into the Abbotsbrook, where the pollution had been seen.

Manholes on the site were lifted and environment officers noticed a strong smell of petrol and evidence of oily irridescence through the culverted stream. Officers advised the company that work on the site should stop and that further investigations needed to be carried out before work recommenced. Officers advised the company on 14 July – and again on 17 July 2006 during a follow up visit – about the culvert under the site, where the surface drainage discharged and that care need to be taken to avoid pollution from the works on site.

However, on 20 July, the Environment Agency received another report of pollution in the Abbotsbrook. Officers attending the site found a pipe leading from an exposed pit of contaminated groundwater, which had previously held petrol tanks. Water from this pit was being pumped into an oil interceptor connected to the surface water drain and then into the culverted stream beneath the site. The pit was being cleared so that modern tanks, which would improve the environmental safety of the site, could be fitted.

The Abbotsbrook was found to be full of silt, making the water brown and unclear, with an irridescent layer of oil on its surface.

Rod Williams, managing director of Williams (Southern) Ltd, and site manager John Hawkins then agreed with Environment Agency officers there would be no further discharge until a solution could be found that would pose no risk to the environment.

A biological investigation by the Environment Agency found that a number of invertebrate species, including fresh water shrimp, had been locally affected by the pollution, which had spread about half a kilometre downstream.

John Whittikar, the director of the company, later admitted in interview that the company thought the interceptor discharged to the foul sewer whilst the site plans showed the interceptor was linked to the culvert, which his staff had missed, despite the previous advice given by the Environment Agency.

Environment officer Cag Ketenci said: “Sadly, it is quite ironic that this company caused harm to the environment while actually carrying out work to reduce the risk of this sort of thing happening.

“Despite the best of intentions, by not assessing the risks of causing such problems properly, the company allowed diesel and silt to enter the Abbotsbrook, affecting fish such as bullheads and fresh water shrimp.

“Silt is becoming a particular problem as it is not often seen as harmful, but it can have devastating effects on local invertebrates, as well as flora and fauna, and we urge all contractors to contact us first for guidance on working near watercourses to ensure that such incidents don’t happen in the future.”

The company was also ordered to pay the Environment Agency’s costs of £2,836.16.

In giving reasons for the level of fine, the District Judge found that the incident was reckless. It was also aggravated by the manner in which the water was pumped through the interceptor and by the failure to respond to the Environment Agency’s advice. The fish and invertebrate killed were also aggravating factors even though the impact of the pollution was short term. The company was given credit for its guilty plea, its previous good character and for its cooperation with the Environment Agency during the investigation.

Anyone who sees pollution in a watercourse should report it on the Environment Agency’s 24 hotline, 0800 807060.