HC Deb 20 April 1989 vol 151 cc301-2W
Mr. Greg Knight

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment if he has yet been able to consider the responses of the water authorities in England and Wales and the Water Companies Association following his request for each utility to carry out a thorough review of their management and operating procedures at water treatment works, particularly unmanned installations, as a consequence of the incident at the Lowermoor works of the South West water authority last summer.

Mr. Howard

Yes. We have received and considered the responses and I am pleased to report that a number of improvements have been made to procedures following the Lowermoor incident.

My right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State, asked water authorities to review, in particular, the matters set out on which separate comments are given.

  1. (i) Waterworks Site Security. There have been some changes in key systems to ensure that access to installations is better controlled. The possible use of electronic systems is being considered in some cases together with improvements in boundary fencing.
  2. (ii) Procedures for Receiving Chemicals at Works. Labelling of installations has been checked and improved where necessary, as have controls for receiving chemicals.
  3. 302
  4. (iii) Remote Monitoring of the Final Treated Water. Additional monitors have been introduced, or are being considered. In addition, the Water Research Centre is doing work in this area to try to ensure that any accidental contamination of the water supply is detected before it reaches the consumer.
  5. (iv) Internal Reporting Arrangements .for Incidents. Greater emphasis is being given to ensuring that emergency reporting lines are clear and co-ordinated and that senior management is informed immediately of an incident that might result in contamination of public water supplies.
  6. (v) Emergency Procedures, Including Liaison with all those concerned with Public Health Issues. Utilities have reviewed their procedures to take account of the lessons to be learned from the Lowermoor incident. In most cases, review is a regular practice. In particular, links with those concerned with public health issues have been reviewed and reinforced where necessary.
  7. (vi) Other Issues. My right hon. Friend also asked the utilities to consider the usefulness of employing a technique known as the Hazard Study Technique, designed to predict the outcome of potential systems failures and to ensure that all systems are fail-safe. A number of the utilities are considering using this method, if they do not already do so. Many utilities inform consumers of matters such as the undesirability of consuming water from the hot tap or have proposals to do so. The prevalence of this unsatisfactory practice was one of the revelations arising from the Lowermoor incident.

Pollution incidents like Lowermoor are rare. But even one is one too many. It is vitally important that suppliers of drinking water take all reasonable measures to avoid such occurrences and that they are constantly alert and prepared to deal with any incident. This position can be secured only through regular review; learning from one's own and others' problems; and by holding regular exercises to ensure that staff are ready and trained to respond quickly and effectively to any incident that might affect water supply.

I am most encouraged by the responses that we have received following the reviews that have just been undertaken.