Universal Beverages pled guilty at Hereford Magistrates’ Court to seven offences, including water pollution on 2 August, and was fined £36,000, ordered to pay £20,825 in costs, along with a £15 victim surcharge.

The works by Universal Beverages of Little Marcle Road, Ledbury, involved a number of incidents where the Preserves Brook, which runs through the company’s site and into the River Leadon was found to be polluted with leachate from apple waste.

The Environment Agency reported that between 21 October 2008 and 22 January 2009 the river was found to be polluted following work carried out by Universal Beverages.

Charges were brought forward by the Environment Agency under Section 85(1) of the Water Resources Act 1991 and the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2007, after the Environmental Agency concluded that the river had suffered from “significant organic pollution”.

On visiting the site, environmental officers found large piles of apple waster next to the brook, from which polluting liquid was leaching out and into the river at levels of pollution that exceeded permitted levels.

On another occasion, officers discovered that floor cleaning fluid has been poured down a surface water drain which fed directly into the brook.

A number of dead fish were also reported in the River Leadon in September 2009, alongside sewage fungus.

Universal Beverages subsequently identified that a drain from the boilerhouse on site had been wrongly connected to the surface water drainage system. This meant that contaminated boiler water was also being discharged to the brook.

An Environment Agency officer in charge of the investigation said: “It is the company’s responsibility to ensure that they have a full understanding of the operation of their site and have adequate control measures and staff training in place to prevent polluting material from impacting on the quality of the local environment. We take such matters seriously and will prosecute where circumstance justify.”

The investigations also identified several breaches of the conditions of the environmental permit. An Enforcement Notice was served to the company for revised operational procedures, completion of training and outstanding improvement conditions.

In mitigation, Universal Beverages was given credit for its early guilty pleas and the proactive stance taken by the new site management on environmental issues. On behalf of the company, Stuart Ponting, offered sincere apologies for what he said had been an operator error and management failings which had now been remedied.

Carys Matthews

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