A mineral extraction company and its director have been fined for allowing a high level of sediment to enter a brook turning it orange and potentially having a serious effect on the spawning ground of dace and barbel.
Specialist Groundwork Services (Construction) Ltd of Auckland Park, Mount Farm, Milton Keynes and company director Adrian Chiarello pleaded guilty to polluting Tongwell Brook at Newport Pagnell in May last year. SGS was fined £4,000 and ordered to pay full Environment Agency costs of £2,646. Chiarello was fined £1,000.
Milton Keynes Magistrates’ Court heard today (Fri) that the pollution was completely avoidable and was due to the neglect of Chiarello who had neither arranged for someone to turn off a pump at night nor done anything to stem the flow of sediment-contaminated water, even though employees had reported that the river was turning orange, until Environment Agency officers arrived at the site.
Kieran Martyn, prosecuting for the Environment Agency, said because the pollution took place during the spawning season the actual effect would not be known until an annual fish survey was carried out. Barbel are particularly prone to lower oxygen levels which the pollution could have created.
The polluted brook runs into the River Ouze and the stretch between Bedford and Newport Pagnell is the premier Barbel fishery in the country, the record Barbel being caught in this area.
Environment Agency officers went to the quarry, which is operated by Specialist Groundwork Services, after reports of the brook turning orange and when they arrived Chiarello told them there had been a problem that morning in the process of pumping water into a silt settlement pond.
He later explained that water was being pumped during the process of dewatering the quarry excavations into the silt settlement pond and someone had forgotten to turn off the pump, resulting in the lake being drained and then sediments from the bottom of it being pumped out. The heavily sedimented water had run into a drainage ditch which connects to Tongwell Brook.
Mr Martyn said it was clear that Chiarello and the company had knowledge of the fact that there was a route by which it would could get into the brook but it was not until the Environment Agency officers told them to dam the ditch that anything was done to stop it. It later transpired that the pump had been left running because Chiarello had not instructed anyone to turn it off after the usual operator left work early.
The Environment Agency had to contact Anglian Water to get them to divert treated sewage effluent into the River Great Ouze to increase the flow of water to stop silt settling onto the river bed and causing more damage.
Agency officers recorded levels of suspended solids discharged into the brook to be 108,000mg per litre compared to 5.7mg upstream and 4.4mg in the River Ouzel upstream of where it meets the Tongwell Brook.
The quarry did have a consent allowing it to discharge into the brook but with a limit of up to 50mg per litre suspended solids – a level deemed acceptable without having an adverse affect on the environment.
After the hearing Environment Agency officer Emma Smith said: ‘ I am pleased with the outcome of the case. This was an unfortunate incident caused by negligence of the company director and could have so easily been prevented.
‘I hope this highlights the importance of management of dewatering operations and management of silt at all quarry sites.’