The UK’s 10 largest water companies, including Thames Water and United Water, are the “biggest and most persistent” polluters of the country’s beaches, according to an investigation by The Observer, The Guardian’s sister newspaper.
Despite being punished more than 1,000 times between them for pollution violations in the last year, the water companies have been collectively fined just £3.5 million ($5.3 million), the paper reports. Just a third of incidents resulted in financial penalties. The average fine is £10,800 ($16,566), the paper reports. The Sentencing Council for England and Wales is reportedly considering major hikes in fines.
One in three pollution incidents involved sewage. The number of pollution incidents shows no sign of abating, according to data the paper obtained from the Environment Agency through a freedom of information request.
The FOI data shows that Thames Water was the country’s most heavily fined company from 2005-2013. Thames Water paid £842,500 ($1,292,311) for 87 incidents. It also logged the single biggest fine — £204,000 ($312,916) — for 15 related incidents in south London where untreated sewage burst from a pipe the company had failed to repair.
United Water, which caused 242 incidents since 2005, was the most frequently punished company. United was fined £200,000 ($306,780) in 2012 for letting sewage pour into the river Keekle in Cumbria on 22 occasions, the paper reports.
The cleanliness of Britain’s beaches has declined in recent years, after improvements over previous decades. Most of the country’s water bodies now fail high-level European water regulations, the paper reports.
A spokesman for industry group Water UK said that while it was “widely accepted” that there is room for improvement on pollution incidents, there is “clear evidence” of progress.
Photo Credit: Andrew Bennett