Which? Calls for increased fines for water pollution

According to the consumer watchdog, Which?, it’s cheaper for British water companies to pump out pollution into our water-ways than to invest in keeping excrement out of rivers.

Even though the pollution of water-ways is a criminal offence, says Which?, the tiny fines handed down to multi-million pound water companies act as little deterrent.

According to the consumer group, examples of paltry fines include one case where Northumbrian Water was fined £1000 after gallons of sewage flowed unchecked into a stream for 18 hours, depositing condoms and sanitary towels on plants and killing 2500 fish.

Even the record fine of £250 000 imposed on Thames Water for pouring a cocktail of raw sewage and dangerous industrial chemicals into ten residents homes in 1998 pales into insignificance beside the company’s pre-tax profits for that year of £342 million, says Which?.

“In general, the Environment Agency would argue that polluters are not fined enough, and polluters do get away with causing pollution instead of cleaning it up in a proper way,” an Environment Agency (EA) spokesman told edie . “The Environment Agency in England and Wales is crying out and stating on record that fines are too low.”

The problem, says Which?, is that most environmental offences are dealt with by magistrates’ courts, where the seriousness of the problem is not recognised. This autumn, however, the Magistrates’ Association is to issue voluntary guidelines to prompt the consideration of a company’s turnover when deciding the penalty for an environmental offence. According to Which?, the solution would be for the Court of Appeal to set a framework for the level of fines.

Though the report paints a bleak picture of UK water quality, in reality, says the Environment Agency, the situation is improving, and Britain compares favourable with the rest of Europe.

“In terms of river water quality, historically the water in England and Wales is becoming much cleaner,” said the EA spokesman. “The River Thames is one of the cleanest rivers running through a major capital city in Europe.”

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