Bury St Edmunds malt producer is fined for causing oil pollution to the River Lark

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A Bury St Edmunds firm has been fined £20,000 for causing oil pollution to the River Lark.

Gas fuel oil escaped from a tank at Pauls Malt Ltd’s premises on Eastern Way, Bury, on November 21, 2011.

It entered the River Lark via a surface water outfall, polluting the river and killing dozens of fish, Bury St Edmunds Magistrates’ Court heard today.

Claire Corfield, prosecuting for the Environment Agency, said the incident was caused by the malfunctioning of an automated float valve, which caused oil to flow continuously from two large outdoor bulk tanks to a smaller secondary tank with less capacity and discharge from an overflow pipe.

She explained that a brick bund surrounding the secondary tank contained a hole, with a joint between the bund wall and the pipe not effectively sealed, allowing oil which had escaped to enter a surface water drain about a metre away, which led to the River Lark.

Mrs Corfield told the court the oil leak caused a serious environmental impact on the River Lark for at least 3.7km downstream, with at least 47 fish killed and more than 100 fish observed in distress.

She said Pauls Malt did not have risk reduction measures in place to check and maintain the secondary tank, bund and float valve, and that it knew the float valve was not a fail safe system.

In mitigation, Kate Kelleher said the incident was a freak accident which occurred when engineers were on site testing boilers in preparation for the winter, in case of a disruption to the company’s gas supply.

She said: “In June 2011 a perfectly good system was put in place. In November 2011, it failed. No-one could have foreseen that this would happen within six months.”

She added: “A valve which fails within six months? With great respect, if an iron or vacuum cleaner failed within six months, we would go back to the manufacturer.”

She said Pauls Malt had spent £106,304 on the clean up and maintenance costs and had approved further works at a cost of £11,000 to prevent recurrence.

Pauls Malt pleaded guilty to contravening the requirements of an environmental permit, namely causing a poisonous, noxious or polluting matter to enter inland fresh waters.

It was fined £20,000 and ordered to pay full costs of £6,475.

Speaking 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.”