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Are we getting better at water pollution prevention?

Before I get started I should probably qualify the “we” in this question, there are clearly several “we’s” that we could be referring to. There is the “we” which is myself and the team at Sandfield Penstock Solutions, there is the “we” that is Industry, the “we” the UK and there is the “we” the global society, humanity. In this post I am addressing the first two  “we’s,” Sandfield Penstock Solutions and Industry. I hope to get to the national and international state of water pollution prevention in a future post.

Are we getting better at water pollution prevention?

Before I get started I should probably qualify the “we” in this question, there are clearly several “we’s” that we could be referring to. There is the “we” which is myself and the team at Sandfield Penstock Solutions, there is the “we” that is Industry, the “we” the UK and there is the “we” the global society, humanity. In this post I am addressing the first two  “we’s,” Sandfield Penstock Solutions and Industry. I hope to get to the national and international state of water pollution prevention in a future post.

To take the us we first, the team here at Sandfield Penstock Solutions. I would say, in my humble opinion – that we are indeed getting better at water pollution prevention. We are busy all day everyday talking to businesses about about water pollution prevention, assessing their water pollution challenges and designing and implementing appropriate water pollution prevention systems and equipment. So you would hope, and we are confident that we are getting better at water pollution prevention. We continue to develop our purpose designed, stand-alone, remotely controlled water pollution containment devices, the ToggleBlok, and every successful customer implementation builds our confidence, experience and our cache of solutions. We have invested in a great balance of containment, design, regulation  and drainage expertise and developed a process for ensuring that we are able to overcome our customers water pollution challenges with a minimum of cost and disruption.

Our customers, of course are industry, all manner of businesses including manufacturers, logistics providers, retailers and highways management companies. 

Is industry getting better at water pollution prevention? 

I suppose the trite answer here would be to say that those businesses that we are working with clearly are, but actually the response we are getting to our blog, our webinars and CPD sessions suggests that there is a wider appetite from businesses to address their water pollution challenges.

There is, of course, motivation for businesses to get busy with their water pollution prevention. The regulatory environment has changed in recent years increasing the liability of businesses that cause water pollution with the introduction of the new guidance, CIRIA c736 in 2014 and the new Sentencing Guidelines in 2015. The major change in the new Sentencing Guidelines was to factor the group of companies income, rather than just the subsidiary that may have been directly responsible, when issuing fines. This has seen fines issued of tens of millions of pounds on top of the cost of cleaning up the polluted environment. The risk of causing pollution, since the adjustment in the Sentencing Guidelines, now represents an existential threat to businesses and in our experience they take that very seriously.

Beyond the threat of fines and clean up costs there is also a reputational risk. In the last twenty years the public have become hypersensitive to pollution and business that cause pollution. Businesses have invested a huge amount of time, energy and money in developing their reputations and their brands and the risk of undoing all of that work typically far outweighs the costs of implementing an effective water pollution containment system.

What are the challenges for businesses looking to implement effective water prevention?

The major challenge for businesses looking to address their water pollution challenges is about legacy, things have changed in the last six years but the word hasn’t quite reached everyone which is why we invest so much time and energy in providing education through this blog, the webinars and our CPD sessions.

On top of the changes in the regulatory environment and pressure from an increasingly aware public the technology has advanced to address the problems that were behind the watershed moment in water pollution, the Buncefield Fire of 2004. The new guidance, CIRIA c736, was developed specifically to counter the mistakes highlighted in that catastrophic event. 

Prior to Buncefield the industry standard, indeed the best practice, was to use Penstock Valves as water pollution containment devices. I have produced and transcribed a video on this subject which you can check out here – The Trouble with Penstock Valves. Suffice to say Penstock Valves were never an appropriate solution to containing water pollution for all of the reasons that I discuss in that post, however the perception persists that Penstock Valves are still the right tool for the job.

The second issue facing businesses looking to address their water pollution risk is how they  understand that risk. Whilst the CIRIA c736 Guidance clearly outlines the conditions that businesses should be prepared to mitigate if they were to suffer a pollution event, applying those conditions to their site is still difficult. Too often guestimates are made with little evidence that the solutions proposed will effectively address the risk which fails to motivate Boards of Directors to write cheques or convince Local Authorities or The Environment Agency to issue environmental permits.  

The third challenge is about the perceived cost and, more importantly, the disruption involved in implementing effective water pollution prevention. Of course businesses exist to generate profits and infrastructure project costs can quickly run out of control, and businesses don’t need to suffer too much disruption before it can effect their bottom line considerably.

How do we work with businesses to overcome these water pollution prevention challenges?

All of these issues are essentially about the way water pollution prevention is perceived, once we are face-to-face and have the opportunity to present our solutions they are typically easily overcome.         

Our customers typically come to us through our website, our webinars and the CPD sessions so the education process is already underway before they invite us to look at their particular challenge. 

When our prospects understand that the pollution containment devices that we provide have been specifically designed to stop a flow immediately, are self contained with inbuilt power and wireless comms – removing the need for disruptive civil works, can be operated remotely or triggered automatically by devices on the GSM network and typically fit into existing manhole chambers and infrastructure, they tend to get quite excited.

We have also developed a Spill Modelling service which provides an animation of what a business can expect to happen in the event of a spill, fire or flood. This service not only enables us to identify the very best location for our pollution containment devices but also serves to convince Boards, Authorities and The Environment Agency that the solution we are proposing is appropriate to their specific water pollution risk.

So, are businesses actually better at water pollution prevention?

On balance the answer to the question is that businesses certainly have the opportunity to be much better at water pollution prevention – the Guidance and the technology are in place.

The big challenge that we haven’t spoken about is the huge number of buinesses in the UK who may be happy that they have Penstock Valves and believe that they are effectively mitigating their risk because they aren’t up to date with CIRIA c736 and the advances in technology.      

I hope this post finds them and that they get the message that effective, affordable and non-disruptive solutions are available and that we would be very happy to discuss those solutions with them. 

David Cole MSEE

David Cole MSEE

Technical Director

David is a pioneer of the spill containment and water pollution prevention industry with 30 years experience. He was instrumental in the development of CIRIA736 with The Environment Agency and is passionate about preventing water pollution.

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