EAST Riding of Yorkshire Council has been fined £18,000 after oil from a Withernsea school’s heating system leaked into a nearby watercourse.
At a hearing at York Magistrates’ Court today (Thursday 20 September), the Council admitted a charge of causing polluting matter to enter inland fresh waters, in contravention of Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2010.
East Riding of Yorkshire Council was also ordered to pay £3,939.02 in costs, plus a victim surcharge of £15.
The case was brought to court by the Environment Agency, who were alerted to the oil leak in January 2011. Craig Burman, prosecuting on behalf of the Agency, told the Court that on 17 January 2011 a strong odour of fuel oil was detected by Withernsea High School, Hull Road, Withernsea, following an oil delivery.
The following day an oily discharge was observed from an outflow pipe into a watercourse near the school.
The oil dispersed through drains to the nearby watercourse, which feeds Winestead Drain, a wildlife haven which itself feeds into the Humber Estuary. A rainbow discolouration could be seen across a 15-kilometre stretch of the watercourse, with a particularly heavy accumulation of red oil around a pumping station on Winestead Drain.
Although the school became aware of an issue on their site on 17th January, it was not investigated until the following day and the Environment Agency wasn’t notified until that afternoon. It transpired that the oil was coming from a storage tank which serves the school’s oil-fired central heating system.
The council, which owns and maintains the school, called in contractors to contain the spill. However the firm lacked some of the necessary containment equipment and the Environment Agency brought in booms to place on the surface of the water to contain the pollution before it entered the Humber Estuary.
Tracey Thompson, an environment officer at the Environment Agency, said: “We are pleased that the problem has now been resolved - pollution of this sort can have a huge impact on wildlife, so it was imperative that the problem was identified and resolved before this occurred.
“We hope this case shows how important it is that all businesses take their environmental responsibilities seriously. One of the Environment Agency’s biggest ambitions is to improve the cleanliness of thousands of miles of rivers in England, and everyone has a part to play to ensure our water and land is more natural and sustainable for people and wildlife.”
The Court heard that there had been an earlier pollution incident at Goole in April 2010 when oil leaked into a water course following a delivery of oil to another school operated by the Council.
In mitigation, Thomas Spencer, representing the council, told the court that the volume of leaked oil was not significantly large, and the court accepted that the Council’s action had been “swift, prompt, and appropriate” once it was aware of the leak. The council has also commissioned a survey of all oil storage tanks on all of their sites, following the oil leak.