July 19, 2008

Water Firm Fined Over Summer Sewage Leak on Beach

By Olivier Vergnault

The world's largest water firm has been fined pounds7,000 for polluting a Blue Flag beach at the height of the tourist season.

Veolia Water Outsourcing Ltd, which is part of the French-group Veolia Environment, received the fine after an employee caused the sewage overflow on Dawlish beach, forcing Teignbridge District Council to close it.

Although the employee had been working for Engenica at the time, the company, which is part of Thames Water Services - the Reading- based company responsible for South West Water's emergency maintenance programme - Veolia picked up the tab when it bought out Thames Water last year.

Magistrates heard it was feared that more than 1,500 cubic metres of untreated sewage had been pumped into the sea off Dawlish town beach just as 60,000 visitors poured into the Devon seaside town for its annual carnival week in August 2006.

Some 30 to 40 children and their parents were ordered out of the sea after it was discovered that a South West Water pumping station was overflowing.

Judith Constable, prosecuting on behalf of the Environment Agency, said Teignbridge District Council had been forced to put up red flags and signs warning people to keep out of the sea.

However, it was later discovered that the amount of sewage which had been pumped into the sea was probably less than 500 cubic metres and had no significant impact on the water quality.

Veolia will pay the same amount as South West Water was fined in December last year when it admitted an offence involving the same incident.

That was despite an appeal by Gary Grant for Veolia, who told magistrates that, although the company had a legal responsibility for the acts of Engenica, there was "little or no blameworthiness attached to the company which you have to sentence today".

Magistrates' chairman David Farnham told the company that fail- safe systems should have been in place to stop the pumping station overflow and Veolia was faced with "dealing with a situation it knowingly assumed responsibility for when it took over Engenica".

Veolia, which admitted a charge of causing effluent to be discharged into the water under the Water Resources Act, could have faced a fine of up to pounds20,000. The company was also ordered to pay pounds2,736 in court costs.

Mr Grant told magistrates: "The reason for the offence is down to simple and unfortunate human error by a single individual in a company that employs 1,700 people."

He said the workman had since admitted his "negligence" and been punished with a final written warning following an "extensive investigation".

He added: "The consequence of the negligence was not one that had any significant impact on the environment.

"Veolia is deeply embarrassed to be here today defending the sins of a company that it has bought."

(c) 2008 Western Morning News, The Plymouth (UK). Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.