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  • Writer's pictureThorne Stopps

Prosecutions for Effluent Discharges

Trade effluent, also known as trade wastewater; henceforth referenced to as effluent, is waste water from industrial (or non-domestic) processes that flows into sewers and water bodies. Effluent may contain: chemicals, solvents, detergents and fats/oils among other contaminants.

Effluent has been controlled through UK legislation since 1937 (Public Health (Drainage of Trade Premises) Act, 1937). This act has since been superseded by multiple extensions and strengthening measures to give better powers in controlling trade effluent discharge. The most current effluent control is the Water Industry Act 1991 (England and Wales).

Water is a finite resource, and although it is very unlikely we will run out of water, there is less than 1% of freshwater that is easily accessible to us. The diagram (left) shows the spread of the Earth’s water.

Due to this small amount of readily available freshwater, it is imperative that we not only reduce our consumption (where practicable), but also that we are conscious when discharging effluent to local water.

As a business, you have added responsibility to ensure your trade effluent is controlled and monitored. For instance, if you are discharging effluent that could harm the environment, you will need to obtain an environmental permit.

If you were to disregard the legislation in place to monitor and control trade effluent, your company could see prosecution and fines. Below we have included some recent case studies to show the financial and reputational losses you could face by damaging our aquatic environment.

Case 1: £650,000 fine for chemical release to estuary

A multi-national marine and protective coatings firm was charged last year for releases of a banned chemical to the Site of Special Scientific Interest, Yealm estuary. The Environment Agency launched an investigation into the company, when they tried to sell their premises, and found levels of tributyltin (a coating historically used on ship hulls, banned in the UK in the 2000s) far exceeding safe levels.

This case exemplifies what happens when a large firm neglects their obligation to protect the environment. The prosecution was worsened by the fact that the company denied any wrongdoings throughout the trial.

Case 2: Scale of raw sewage discharges starting to show

In response to growing pressure from the public and campaign groups, Thames Water created an interactive map which shows, in real-time, sewage that has been discharged through its inland storm overflows.

The map highlights the severity of the issue of raw sewage being dumped into our watercourses across the capital, as well as the home counties. Overall, Thames Water released raw sewage for over 2.7 million hours in 2021 alone. It is hoped that this number has been reduced, once 2022 figures are published.

Thames Water may have increased negative press surrounding their operations by showing the scale of their shortfalls, however, it is hoped that as water companies become more transparent about their activities, they will be less inclined to illegally discharge sewage.

Case 3: Kitchen charged with releasing trade waste into sewers

In 2019, one of the UK’s largest Chinese catering firms was ordered to pay close to half a million pounds, after it was found that they were illegally allowing trade waste to enter foul waste and surface water sewers.

The releases of this uncontrolled effluent had the potential for major impacts on local biodiversity; due to the fact that the surface water sewers flow directly into rivers and streams.

The company plead guilty to 20 offences under the Water Industry Act 1991 and was fined £415,000 with costs of £9,428 and a victim surcharge of £1,170.

Hopefully this article has provided insight into trade effluent and the need for environmental permitting. If you find your company in need of a more robust environmental management system, get in touch with Base Solutions today. One of our environmental consultants will be more than happy to help guide you.


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