Scottish Water was fined £7,500 at Dunfermline Sheriff Court on 8 March after admitting a sewage spill from one of their wastewater pumping stations polluted a Fife burn.
They pled guilty to carrying on a controlled activity, namely an activity liable to cause pollution of the water environment in that a quantity of untreated sewage was discharged to the Lyne Burn at Crossgates. The matter was investigated by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) and reported to the Procurator Fiscal.
SEPA was alerted to the incident on 4 May 2011 by the landowner. On attending the site SEPA officers found the burn was dark grey in colour, with sewage fungus and sewage odour present. It seemed to be highly polluted for the entire 500 metres open channel, and a further 200 to 300 metres in a piped section.
On investigating they learnt that the spill had come from the Humbug Park Waste Water Pumping Station when one of the pumps had tripped. Another pump should have come on, but it had accidentally been switched off at an earlier date. An overflow pipe had been blocked off previously, but this had dislodged with the pressure allowing sewage to spill to the Lyne Burn. The ‘stopper’ or plug that had been used to seal the overflow had become dislodged.
Results from water samples taken by SEPA showed very high concentrations of pollutants, consistent with sewage entering the water. At the sample point 20 metres downstream of the discharge contaminants were 20 times the level at which a watercourse would be classed as ‘poor’. They were still over 15 times the level 200 metres downstream and when SEPA ecologists carried out a survey of the area they detected dead invertebrates as far as 1.5 kilometres downstream.
Carla Ward, SEPA’s investigating officer, said: “SEPA’s impact categorisation procedure dictates that contamination of more than ten times the Environmental Quality Standard is considered a Category One event, the most serious. Given that the levels of contamination in the Lyon Burn were, in places, twice this and considering the length of watercourse affected, this pollution event fits this category.
“Following a previous incident the overflow at the pumping station had been blocked off, but it was ineffective as a long term solution. An automated remote monitoring system which sends electronic information back to a control centre was in place at the site, but had not been working for three months. This system should have alerted Scottish Water to the problem, as they would have realised neither pump was working.
“Given Scottish Water’s experience we would expect them to fully appreciate the potential problems caused by a lack of telemetry information at a site, especially one like Humbug Park where there is little storage capacity in the event of pumps not working. While they did carry out a basic clean-up immediately after this pollution incident it was not enough to rectify the situation and given the seriousness of the pollution SEPA felt it wholly appropriate to report them to the Procurator Fiscal.”