Peterlee Magistrates Court found that the utility company Northumbrian Water should pay a fine of around half a million pounds. This fine was for supplying unfit water to around 10,000 residents of County Durham in 2016. The total includes £499,725 in fines, costs of £32,792.65 which were agreed out of court, and a £170 victim surcharge. The charges were made against Northumbrian Water by the Drinking Water Inspectorate. They found Northumbrian Water guilty of supplying water which was not suitable for humans to consume to some customers.
What was wrong with the water from Northumbrian Water?
In December 2016, some Northumbrian Water customers in County Durham found that their water had an unpleasant taste and smell. Some described it as being metallic or tasting like a chemical. Others described the water as tasting like plastic or medicine. Complaints like this resulted in an investigation into the operations at South Moor Service Reservoir in Burnhope. There was no serious risk to the health of the customers who consumed the water. However, it was definitely unfit to supply to consumers as drinking water due to the flavour and odour.
Why did Northumbrian Water supply contaminated water?
The changes to the water quality occurred following maintenance work at the reservoir near Stanley. Northumbrian Water failed to carry out the proper checks before resuming service from the reservoir. An internally-applied epoxy coating was not left to cure for the correct length of time. This was the cause of the bad smell and taste to the water from the reservoir. The court, therefore, found Northumbrian Water guilty of not following the manufacturer’s instructions for the correct use of the product. Nobody was hurt, but they did let customers down, and the risk could have been much worse. Northumbrian Water has issued a public apology to the affected customers. Since the incident, they have reviewed their procedures and implemented the lesson. It has not happened again since then, and they have shared their practices with other water companies to ensure that they don’t make the same mistake.