Southern Water in Cranbrook fined for sewage spill

Fish in polluted water generic
Image caption The Environment Agency said it found fish "gasping for air" following the sewage discharge in Kent

A water company has been condemned for not monitoring alarms on systems which would have detected the discharge of raw sewage into a stream in Kent.

Southern Water was fined £13,500 after pleading guilty to the incident at a sewage treatment works in Cranbrook.

The Environment Agency, which brought the case, said it expected companies handling raw sewage to "take their responsibilities very seriously".

Southern Water said it had taken steps to ensure it would not happen again.

The company appeared before Sevenoaks magistrates on 26 October, where it was also ordered to pay costs of £5,406 as well as a victim surcharge of £15.

The Environment Agency said the incident on 26 September 2010 could have been avoided.

It said it had received a call on that day from a member of the public who had said there were dead and dying fish in the Hammer Stream at Hammer Mill Farm, Biddenden.

An officer from the agency went to the scene and "confirmed that there were fish gasping for air at the weir upstream of the farm".

It said a sewage discharge was traced back to the sewage treatment works and it "became apparent that the site had discharged on 23 and 24 September".

"A fish survey subsequently found 275 dead fish in the area immediately downstream of the works," it added.

Heavy rain

Ben Tragett, senior environment officer, said: "The discharge seems to have been caused due to a blockage at the works. Alarms on the systems there should identify when this happens."

He added that the alarms were electronically connected to Southern Water's control room in Worthing and "their activation should have resulted in a response".

"The defendant company were apparently unaware of the discharge until after we visited the site on 26 September and when their telemetry records had been interrogated."

In a statement, Southern Water apologised for the incident, which it said happened during heavy rain "when screens that normally filter debris from the wastewater became blocked".

It said it had taken immediate action "to mitigate the effects of the pollution and clean up the brook".

"The company has since made extensive improvements to the site and enhanced the alarm and monitoring systems to reduce the risk of similar incidents."

Graham Purvis, wastewater quality manager, said: "We are sorry this incident happened as we take our responsibility of protecting the environment very seriously, and this site has not given us any significant problems in the past."

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