Skip to main content
Creating a better place

Environment Agency investigation into sewage treatment works moves to next phase

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Environment Agency, Water

EA inspectors at a water treatment works

The Environment Agency (EA) is conducting its largest ever criminal investigation into potential widespread breaches of environmental permit conditions at wastewater treatment works by all water and sewerage companies. As the investigation continues, we are very limited as to what we can share about our inquiries. However, we are committed to sharing information where we can. We can now tell you that the investigation is moving to its next phase which will include visits by EA investigators to sites where offending may have occurred.

Since the investigation was launched, we have been working through thousands of documents relating to water company processes and actions at thousands of wastewater treatment works. Working through these documents has been a huge undertaking. Each document can contain large amounts of data which help give us a fuller picture of whether permit breaches have occurred or not. EA specialists have analysed over 2 billion pieces of data to build a comprehensive understanding of the scale of potential offending. Our initial assessment indicates that there may have been widespread and serious non-compliance of environmental permit conditions by all companies. We take the implications of this extremely seriously and are committed to understanding the scale and impact of any alleged offending.

We have used the data to guide the next stage of our enquiries and to help us identify specific sites for further investigation. Throughout the coming months the EA will conduct site visits to wastewater treatment works with specialist investigators. The purpose of these visits will be to secure and preserve evidence relevant to our lines of inquiry. It is important to note that our investigation is focused on understanding the facts and these site visits will help us identify whether non-compliance has taken place.

Environmental permits exist to protect our environment and limit the impact of pollution; water companies have a legal responsibility to comply with their permit conditions. If we find that water companies have breached their permit conditions, then we will consider all of the options available to us under our Enforcement and Sanctions policy.

You can find more information about this investigation here.

Sharing and comments

Share this page


  1. Comment by Geoffrey Huddart posted on

    Please Prosecute Polluting water companies. We don't tolerate this .

  2. Comment by Joy Scott posted on

    Is stopping pay offs to shareholders & hehe huge bonuses for top management on your Enforcement & Sanctions. If so it should be, & backdated. They have systematically ripped us off for years. It's disgusting & about time it investigated. Coffey also as nothing but lies from her too.

  3. Comment by Andrea Mackay posted on

    Information about which companies are polluting, and by how much, needs to be entirely transparent - if a so-called 'undemocratic' county like China has an app (Bluemap App) which any of its citizens can access to check out air pollution, surely a 'world-beating, democratic' country like Great Britain can provide an app that publishes data from all the water polluters of our rivers, waterways and beaches. Knowledge about what is harming us is a democratic right, and the Government's commitment to safeguarding its citizens should trump all other responsibilities.

    • Replies to Andrea Mackay>

      Comment by Mike posted on

      Yes. It's beyond believe what is happening in this so called "civilised" country. Even more shocking what people put up with?..
      I can see how they couldn't afford to do this in France as people would soon take them to cleaners.

  4. Comment by Julie Houldershaw posted on

    Water companies need to be more transparent and make members of the public aware of all waste releases, not just storm overflows, but emergency pipes, which can be found as part of the sewage pumps. These emergency pipes need to be on all asset maps, to ensure that everyone knows their location, especially councils and builders. These old pipes could be flowing into your nearest dyke or drain. They could even have been built over or filled in and no one will be the wiser. The water companies must be held to account. When will the government actual enforce legislation that ensures that these emergency overflow pipe releases are recorded. At present these can be used and no record made, apart from if near shellfish areas.

  5. Comment by Adam McQuarrie posted on

    Just a point from the other side.....

    When looking at rivers reaching Good EcologicalStatus across England, the water industry is responsible for 27% of reasons for rivers in England not achieving good status, 73% is caused by other industries.

    40% Farming
    11% Urban Development and Transport
    5% Local and Central Government
    4% Other
    4% Public - Misconnected Plumbing
    3%Mining and Quarrying
    2% Under Investigation
    1% No Specific Sector

    Source: The Environment Agency Catchment Data for England, August 2022

    Let that sink in..... 73% polutions are NOT ATTRIBUTABLE to the Water Industry

    I don't see the media reporting that 40% is due to farming, or that 11% is due to building on land that would normally absorb rain and runoff.

    The water industry is working hard to reduce spills, improving infrastructure to handle additional volumes of water due to overbuilding and working with farmers to use less harmful pesticides that leak and spill into waterways.

    Lets see some balanced reporting rather than just the negative comments about the Water Industry being the sole cause.


Leave a comment

We only ask for your email address so we know you're a real person

By submitting a comment you understand it may be published on this public website. Please read our privacy notice to see how the GOV.UK blogging platform handles your information.