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£20 million – the price of bad fluid handling

UK water supplier Thames Water has been hit with a massive £20.3 million (€23. 5 million) fine following massive leaks of untreated sewage into the Thames, the river’s tributaries, and on to land. The fine is the largest ever handed to a water utility company for an environmental disaster.

The extended series of leaks had a devastating effect on the region’s residents, farmers and wildlife.

Imposed at Aylesbury Crown Court, the massive fine relates to numerous offences in 2013 and 2014 at six sewage treatment works at various locations along the Thames. The prosecuting British Environment Agency described the enormous volume of sewage discharged – 1.4 billion litres, as “unprecedented”.

Thames Water is the UK’s largest water company, providing water to around 25% of the population (15 million people). In 2016 the company received a £1 million (€1.2 million) fine for sewage discharges into the Grand Union canal, and later that year, £380,000 (€439,817) for discharges in the Chiltern area.

Anne Brosnan, the Environment Agency’s chief prosecutor, told the Guardian: “Thames Water was completely negligent to the environmental dangers created by the parlous state of its works. Our investigation revealed that we were dealing with a pattern of unprecedented pollution incidents which could have been avoided if Thames Water had been open and frank with the EA as required.”

Judge Francis Sheridan described the events as a “shocking and disgraceful state of affairs.” He explained the need for the massive fine to act as a deterrent to future breaches. “One has to get the message across to the shareholders that the environment is to be treasured and protected, and not poisoned.”