SEPA reminds Scottish businesses that compliance is non-negotiable as Scottish Water fined £6,700 for Fife water pollution

  14 May 2021
Scotland’s environmental regulator, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA), is reminding Scottish business that compliance with Scotland’s environmental laws is non-negotiable, as an investigation it led has this week resulted in a prosecution and fine for an operator following a water pollution incident in Fife.

Following reports from the public to SEPA of a pollution incident, the Agency conducted an investigation and submitted a report to the Procurator Fiscal.  On Monday (10 May 2021), Scottish Water was prosecuted and fined £6,700 for the incident, from October 2018, in which a chemical leak from the Cupar Waste Water Treatment Work into the River Eden caused localised pollution and the death of hundreds of fish.

Scottish Environment Protection Agency Chief Executive, Terry A’Hearn, said:

“Compliance with Scotland’s environmental laws is non-negotiable.  Our One Planet Prosperity regulatory strategy is focused on two aims. First, holding to account those who do the wrong thing and second, supporting Scottish businesses to do the right thing and to innovate and thrive in a low-carbon world. 

“Whilst we’re pleased by the significant priority Scottish Water is placing on environmental and low-carbon performance, we’re disappointed that shortcomings in this case led to a chemical spill,  localised pollution in one of Scotland’s watercourses, and caused the death of hundreds of fish in what is a popular angling area.  It is important that Scottish Water is making improvements to ensure this particular type of incident is not repeated.”

SEPA became aware of an unauthorised discharge from Cupar Waste Water Treatment Works in October 2018 following reports from the public of dead fish.

The source of the discharge was traced back to a chemical leak following a spill from the Scottish Water-run Cupar Waste Water Treatment Works, both directly into the river at various points, and through surface water drains after the spill was hosed into the drains during an attempted clean up. The escaped chemical, Zetag, impacted on the oxygen in the river water, resulting in a major fish kill.

During its investigation, SEPA found there had been a lack of staff knowledge on the effects of the chemical and about the surface water drains at the site, a lack of training on chemical handling and emergency spill response, and that the proper risk assessments for moving containers of Zetag had not been undertaken. As a result of the spill it is expected that the regeneration of fish stocks will take several years despite no ongoing environmental damage.

Ashley Clunie, Fife, Dundee and Angus Unit Manager at SEPA, added:

“Chemical spills can cause significant damage to the delicate ecosystems which our rivers and waterways sustain - so it is crucial that the appropriate safety measures are always in place to ensure that unauthorised discharges, even accidental, are prevented.

“In this instance, Scottish Water did not have the appropriate measures in place, and this particular incident caused considerable damage to the River Eden.

“We hope that today’s fine serves as a reminder to others that compliance is non-negotiable and enforcement action will be taken against those who fail to comply with Scotland’s environmental regulations.”


Notes to editors

The exact charge Scottish Water pled guilty to was:

  • (001) on 02 October 2018 at Cupar Waste Water Treatment Works, Prestonhall Industrial Estate, Cupar, Fife, KY15 4RB you Scottish Water did carry on a controlled activity, namely an activity liable to cause pollution of the water environment in that you did discharge approximately 400 litres of Zetag 9048FS into the River Eden without the authority an authorisation under the aftermentioned Regulations; 

CONTRARY to the Water Environment (Controlled Activities) (Scotland) Regulations 2011 Regulation 4 and

44(1)(a) and the Water Environment and Water Services (Scotland) Act 2003 Section 20(3)(a)

Scottish Water was fined £6700 with a Victim’s surcharge of £350.”

on 02 October 2018 at Cupar Waste Water Treatment Works, Prestonhall Industrial Estate