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UK: Prosecution over Oil leak that polluted the River Lark

"The oil leak caused a serious environmental impact on the River Lark for at least 3.7kms downstream

Suffolk malt producer, Pauls Malt Ltd, has been fined £20,000 and ordered to pay full costs of £6,475 for causing oil pollution to the River Lark.

Bury St Edmunds Magistrates’ Court heard today (Thursday) that gas fuel oil escaped from a tank at Pauls Malt’s premises on Eastern Way, Bury St Edmunds. The oil entered the River Lark via a surface water outfall, polluting the river and killing dozens of fish.

Mrs Corfield, prosecuting for the Environment Agency, explained that a secondary metal oil tank on site was surrounded by a brick bund. A pipe passed through the bund wall and ended approximately one metre from a surface water drain. The joint between the bund wall and the pipe was not effectively sealed and oil had escaped and entered the drain which led to the River Lark.

The court heard that the secondary tank was filled from two outdoor bulk tanks and filling was controlled solely by an automated float valve. The incident was caused by the float valve malfunctioning causing oil to flow continuously to the secondary tank and discharge from the overflow pipe.

Mrs Corfield said that the company did not have risk reduction measures in place to check and maintain the secondary tank, bund and float valve and they knew the float valve was not a fail safe system.

Mrs Corfield told the court that the oil leak caused a serious environmental impact on the River Lark for at least 3.7kms downstream. At least 47 fish were killed and over 100 fish were observed in distress. There was also an impact on air-breathing and surface-dwelling invertebrates and the pollution caused public concern affecting the amenity of the area through appearance and smell.

In mitigation, Ms Kate Kelleher, barrister, said that the incident happened when engineers were on site testing the boilers in preparation for winter in the event of disruption to the gas supply. The company spent £106,304 on the clean up and maintenance costs and has approved further works at a cost of £11,000 to prevent recurrence.

After the hearing, Environment Agency officer Ross McIntyre said:
“This pollution and these fish deaths could have been avoided if adequate preventative measures had been in place for the oil tank.”
Pauls Malt Ltd pleaded guilty to:
1. On or about 22 November 2011, at 24-25 Eastern Way, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, IP32 7AD you caused poisonous, noxious or polluting matter, namely gas fuel oil, to enter inland freshwaters, namely the River Lark, without being authorised by an environmental permit.

Contrary to Regulation 12(1)(b) and 38(1)(a) of the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales Regulations 2010.