Pollution Alert! Following Fire at Beddington Sewage Works

We have just had reports that a fire at Beddington Sewage Treatment Works – involving 15 fire engines and 75 firefighters from across South London – this evening has knocked out their power systems.  As a result sewage cannot be properly treated and is flowing into storm tanks; once these are full the untreated sewage will be discharged to the Wandle (here).

Thames Water and the Environment Agency are on site ready to respond by helping to elevate oxygen levels in the river. This will help to minimise any harm to fish and other organisms.  At this stage we don’t know how severe any impacts from the anticipated pollution may be but we will add updates as we get them through the comments section below.

If anyone has any further information or experiences, please do add them through the comments box as well – all information helps us to build a better picture of what’s going on and ensure the best possible response.  Thank you and thanks to those out there ready to deal with anything that comes the Wandle’s way!

42 thoughts on “Pollution Alert! Following Fire at Beddington Sewage Works

  1. sarah hubert

    I noticed at 6.30am this morning 22/8/12 the river water had turned very brown along Watermeads near Poulters Park. I’m pretty sure that at 5.45am the water was still clear. Pollution is far too frequent along this beautiful river.

  2. Theo

    Sarah, many thanks for this information… If anyone else is out on the river, please let us know via this comments section if you see any further evidence of pollution, fish or other wildlife in distress etc!

  3. Theo

    Update from Thames Water: because the STW’s control room was severely damaged in the fire which started in the adjacent power house, the plant is now being run manually with diesel generators powering all processes. However, there has already been a sludge spill from the final tanks, and Thames Water staff are using aeration equipment as part of their efforts to get the STW functioning efficiently again. Additionally, Hogsmill STW is usually controlled remotely from Beddington, so this is also being manually operated. We anticipate a press release from Thames Water shortly.

  4. Helen Newman

    We have been dealing with a major fire at Beddington sewage works in Croydon overnight which left the site without power. This has now been restored.
    Fortunately, no-one was injured but this did affect the quality of the effluent discharging into the River Wandle before we got alternative power supplies running.
    The Environment Agency has been on site helping to limit the impact on the river but regretfully, a number of dead fish have been found.
    We are still investigating the cause of the fire and will be working with the Wandle Trust to monitor the effect on wildlife.

  5. Theo

    Helen, many thanks for this – where were the dead fish found?

    Update from Tim who’s cycling through Ravensbury Park: the water there is noticeably turbid but not particularly smelly, with no sign of distressed fish at present.

  6. Peter Dewar

    I was fishing the river in Morden Hall Park for about half an hour when at about 8.30 a.m. this morning I was told about the pollution.

    Before that I had seen a couple of dead chub float by.

  7. Theo

    Latest news: Tim is helping the EA collect dead fish from the Wandle in Poulter Park, with 10 species identified so far (barbel, bullhead, chub, dace, eel, gudgeon, minnow, roach, stickleback, tench) and many specimens including dace to 0.75lbs and roach to 1.5 – 2lbs.

    The EA are continuing to dose the river with hydrogen peroxide to increase oxygen levels at 3 sites (Mill Green, Watermeads and Merton Abbey Mills) and Bella is helping to monitor dissolved oxygen levels at Morden Hall Park.

    Latest local news summary: http://tinyurl.com/9wyzpxk

  8. Steve Frost

    Heard about this on the grapevine this morning. I fear for the dear old Wandle. As Beddington STW provides a huge % of the river flow during the summer months there will belittle that can be done to stop the pollution until the sewage flow can be stopped.

  9. Theo

    Steve, many thanks for your insight – fortunately the upper river’s natural chalk springs started flowing again within the last few weeks (thanks to aquifer recharge from this summer’s rain!) So it seems we’re getting some dilution from the upper river, but still awaiting further developments with great anxiety…

  10. Theo

    Update: the Wandle Trust’s staff are spread along the river monitoring dissolved oxygen at Deen City Farm and Ravensbury Park, and continuing to collect hundreds of dead fish at Poulter Park. We’ve now counted 11 species.

  11. Steve Frost

    Theo, all you can do is get as much oxygen into the water as possible. Use any pumps to agitate and recirculate the water particularly in the slower reaches. Pray for rain!

  12. Lriva

    Cycled past the river today, didn’t look too bad. Saw no dead fish, birdlife seemed okay too. Strange smell coming from it though, sort of a boggy putrid aroma that I’ve never smelt before.

  13. wayne laws

    still pumping contaminated water from the wandle at mill green, a bucket full of dead barbel by the river, the pumping may continue till morning, saw this at 6pm.

  14. Theo

    Thanks Steve, Steve, Lriva and Wayne!

    Update from Bella in the Mill Green area: the river is now looking much clearer (the bottom is now visible for the first time today – an indication that the STW processes have restarted successfully) and more aerators have just arrived to continue working to prevent oxygen sag as the aquatic plants stop photosynthesising overnight and produce CO2 rather than oxygen.

  15. rod sturdy

    Theo, I gather from what I have read about the Wandle Trust that it has a close relationship with Thames Water. Indeed, Thames Water is the Trust’s main sponsor. I think that this kind of symbiosis is something of a slippery slope, given that TW’s main allegiance has to be with its shareholders. And of course, with its own public image.
    Just think, if there were to be a really devastating pollution (God knows this current one is bad enough) such as occurred in 2007, can you honestly say that you would not hesitate to take TW to court using the services of Fish Legal?
    Specific questions: have TW kept you informed of improvements (if any) to their sewage works at Beddington? Have you any means of exerting pressure on them to reveal what changes they have made? And what has been done with the record payment TW made following the 2007 spill?
    I think you should review your close relationship with TW as a matter of some urgency. Anglers have far too often come off worse in such situations because they have failed to go on the offensive. They have been too nice about things basically. There are clear disadvantages to not keeping such a body as TW at arm’s length.
    Rod Sturdy

  16. Theo

    Rod, many thanks for your concern for the Wandle and the Wandle Trust…

    As a Rivers Trust, our primary concern is for the Wandle, and experience throughout the country has shown that better results are delivered by working with people/organisations that can have an influence on a river. Thames Water will be a major player in south London for the foreseeable future and so we’re happy to work with them for the benefit of the Wandle, as we would with any organisation which is not maliciously damaging the river. In the event of another 2007-style catastrophe, we would not shy away from prosecution if we thought this would produce the best result for the river. Thames Water isn’t actually the Wandle Trust’s main funder, but it’s worth noting that the seed funding we received as part of the voluntary 2007 settlement has enabled us to secure over £1million additional funding for future improvements on the river.

    As to your other questions: after 2007 we understand that Thames Water installed state-of-the-art sensors on Beddington’s outlet so that any problem discharge can be immediately detected and recirculated back through the system. We have long believed that the works’ storm tank capacity could be improved, and hope that these and other upgrades (phosphate stripping etc) will be included in future investment rounds. As far as we’re aware, Thames Water has kept us up to date with all improvements, but they operate a policy of transparency and I’m sure they’d be happy to answer any technical questions you may have directly. Finally, we understand that the company is currently preparing a “5 years on” report on the river restoration projects funded by the 2007 settlement, and this should be published and available within the next few months.

  17. n jones

    i can,t beleive that there are no redundent systems to surply power in a emergancy at water works , must just be easier to pay the fine , and pay the share holders divi ,at least its cooled down as it stops kids swiming at dean city farm by the swings over the
    river , no warning signs posted. still i expect the water board will
    trow in the odd fish here and there , hope the fine is a big one
    but rivers take years to recover , starting to think its a waste of time getting fishingt licence ,ps have tou seen the state of the river eden almost pumped it dry , sad day

  18. John Whittington

    Just got back from an hour and a half fishing at Ravensbury Park: no sign of pollution or dead fish; no smell/colour or anything.

    Caught 10 good dace 6-7oz, 3 gudgeon, 3 small roach and 1 x 4″ chub; didn’t see any of the large fish but wasn’t really there that long.

  19. tim

    At 830pm – still a number of dead fish in the river, including in the effluent channel and main river down towards Poulters park. A lot of the dead fish will be hidden on the river bed and in weed beds etc. We found that you couldn’t see a lot of them until you were in the water with a net.
    Would like to say thanks to the EA and TW teams as well as all the various contractors who have worked hard today doing their bit for the river. Some of who will be working through the night to minimise the pollution effects.

  20. sarah hubert

    6.30am in Ravensbury Park and Watermeads the water is looking clear, but there’s a lot of brown sludge on the pond weed.
    I saw one alive fish in Ravensbury park, a big one at least a foot long, there is usually a large group of these fish near the foot bridge, this one was swimming slowly upstream in shallow water upstream of the bridge. Along Watermeads I saw at least 30 dead fish. I saw 2 herons and the usual bird life, will these be poisoned by the sewage?

  21. Steve Frost

    Sarah, the reason for the fish kill is oxygen depletion from the sewage pollution. The bird life will be OK.

  22. Theo

    Update from Stewart Ridgway on the Wandle Piscators’ forum an hour ago: “Just had a look up at Morden Hall and the river does seem to have a brownish tinge to it, but the bottom is mostly visible. Didn’t see any dead fish though, but then didn’t see any live ones either”

  23. Ed Randall

    It really annoys me, the way the default failure mode is always “the river gets it”.

    I know it’s always going to be the case, because of the way water runs downhill and all, but until the fines are a real penalty which reflects the true environmental cost, plus a punitive penalty that really makes companies think hard about their operations, nothing will change.

    What would be the cost of cleaning up all this sewage if it were to run down the road? (Or be dumped in Heathrow hotel basements in the case of the Crane)? £1million? £10million? So that’s how much the fine should be.

    Take the example of computer data centres, they are often regarded as being “business critical” to the companies that use them. The cost of losing the thing would be catastrophic, so they usually have halon (or some new safer halon replacement) systems built in to ensure that if anything goes off it’s extinguished before it gets out of hand.

    Now, is a sewage works not business-critical infrastructure to the water company (and society-critical to you and I, the “end-users”)?
    What fire controls were installed in that building? If there were some, why did they not work? How often were they tested? Could they reasonably be presumed to be adequate? How much would it have cost that business to upgrade the fire control systems in the critical parts of their sites to ensure that this doesn’t happen again? The fine should reflect this cost, to make absolutely clear that it will be less expensive for them to maintain their facilities properly rather than skimp on safeguards. Money is the only thing they understand, so they must be hit hard in the wallet.

  24. Peter Dewar

    Is there any way of assessing when it will possible or sensible or even safe to start fishing again in the river? Will the Environment Agency have anything to say about ‘the loss of amenity’ that Thames Water has been responsible for with this leak of sewage? Does this factor ever feature in the penalties which offending water companies have to pay?

  25. Theo

    Peter, we’re currently trying to get an official view from Thames Water and the EA as to the possibility of starting to fish the river again: we know that both organisations are watching this blog, so I’m hoping someone will jump in and contribute answers to this and your other questions.

    In the meantime, we do know that one or two members of the Wandle Piscators have been fishing (and catching) from Ravensbury Park downstream with no apparent ill effects, and of course the upper section of te river above the effluent channel has been unaffected by the pollution.

  26. Dave Harper

    Agree with Ed – we cannot jail these “see you next Tuesdays” but they should sack those responsible

  27. Lee hill

    Surely Thames water should have some sort of filter on the overflow to stop this sort of tragedy, our river has suffered enough and I’m sick of it!

  28. Peter Dewar

    If Thames Water is reading this blog could one of their representatives please have the decency to write and tell people what they intend to do to make good this pollution. The water company must surely realise that they have blighted an amenity for hundreds and hundreds of people by no means all of whom are anglers.

  29. Jo

    I cycled through Morden Hall Park this morning.
    There was a good sized shoal of live fish (about 6″ long) beneath the white bridge in the middle of the park.
    I didn’t see any dead fish there – but there were plenty on the bottom of the river in Poulter Park yesterday.

  30. Keith Arthur

    Peter Dewar, whilst I sympathise with ‘others’ who enjoy the Wandle and, of course, other rivers, I wonder how many of them contribute to defending them against polluters who seem to be almost exclusively either water companies or farmers? Shamefully only 1% of anglers contribute too, directly via the Angling Trust, but £25m of our English Pounds go to the EA for spending on fisheries which are where fish live, rather than places they are fished for.

    22nd September 2012 is inked in my diary for a match to celebrate the ‘recovery’ of the river that was devoid of fish life when I lived in South Wimbledon. I wonder if it will survive that long?

  31. Lee hill

    Well I know many anglers who fish the wandle put in there time to help the many clean ups and work party’s to help maintain the wandle but it’s true that very few donate

  32. willie

    just went past the mouth of the wandle on a train,thought i saw a few dead fish? anyone investigated down that far?

  33. Baz

    Apparently the fish that were dead on the bottom will start floating to the surface and go with the flow. I saw some guys yesterday trying to remove as many as possible before that happened.
    The water looks really great now.

  34. Lee hill

    They were probably washed downstream, the ea done a very good job in preventing it killing everything. It’s mainly mill green and poulters that’s been effected

  35. Dave Harper

    Walked Poulters Park to top end of Ravensbury Park. Spotted less than 10 dead fish, all quality. On plus side walking back to car spotted large shoal of dace – see pic

  36. Peter Dewar

    Can anyone say whether or not it is safe (from the point of view of anglers’ health) to fish the river again?

    Peter Dewar

  37. Jeff

    Was fishing ravensbury stretch today and saw a lot of large very healthy Carp and many a shoal of Dace didn’t see any dead fish at all and water looked very clear too

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