Soap powder from a tank at a disused Lavenham industrial site in Suffolk has been washed into the Lavenham Brook, a tributary of the River Brett, causing the deaths of a large number of fish.
Thieves broke into the site to steal the tank and emptied its contents – soap powder to make liquid soap – onto the ground before taking the tank away. A neighbouring business owner called in a cleaning company but unfortunately some of the powder ended up in surface water drains leading to the River Brett.
The Environment Agency was finally alerted to the incident by a local man who had seen the pollution in the river and traced it back to the site, where the consequences of the tank theft became clear.
The River Brett was affected for about 2-3km and along this stretch stone loach, sticklebacks and minnows were wiped out. The estimate for the numbers killed is between 100 to 1,000.
By the time the water reached Lavenham Sewage Treatment Works the pollution was very much diluted and there were no fish deaths further downstream.
The Environment Agency would like to hear from anyone who may have information about the tank theft as the thieves may be held directly responsible for the pollution happening.
Anyone who suspects a pollution or potential for pollution should call the Environment Agency’s hotline on 0800 80 70 60.
Environment officer Jamie Fairfull said: ‘It is always best to call us if this type of incident happens so that we can make sure that a thorough clean-up takes place and there is no risk to the environment. Although this soap powder appeared to have been cleaned up by contractors there was enough powder left to cause this terrible pollution in which possibly hundreds of fish died.
‘The neighbouring business owner did a good job calling someone in to clean up the powder but we should always be notified as well so that we can ensure that it has been done well enough to protect the environment.
‘People don’t always realise the amount of damage that can be done by substances getting into surface water drains. Drains outside your property are designed to take rain water away, usually to the nearest river so people should never put any household or garden chemical down them.’