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Fears for wildlife and bathers after video shows waste being discharged into river

05 Jul 2024 7 minute read
The river Tywi in Carmarthen. Photo Mark Mansfield

Stephen Price

A firm running a waste and recycling site has been accused of pumping toxic waste into a Welsh river in a viral video seen by thousands on social media.

In a recent Facebook post, Carmarthen Coracle & Netsmen’s Association shared their concerns about pollution entering the River Tywi, writing: “Taken today at 2am – pouring into the river system by the Bascule ‘White’ Bridge.

“Guess what, this is allowed to happen as NRW grant Mekatek a licence to discharge into the river, but due to staffing levels, NRW haven’t the staff to carry out their own checks, they rely on the discharge being self regulated by Mekatek.”

Responding to the post, Natural Resources Wales (NRW) said: “Hi, please could you report what you have witnessed to our incident hotline please so we can collect some further information?

“You can do that either by calling our incident hotline on 03000 65 3000, or by completing an incident form on our website https://naturalresourceswales.gov.uk/…/report-an…/…

“Thanks very much.”

In response, the group shared a latter from NRW, saying: “These are reported, however you always regard them as low category, so never attend – so this keeps getting pumped into our river with no action.”

Water testing

With concerns growing over the past few years, Carmarthen Riverside Association has been testing water quality at different locations along the lower Tywi catchment area from Llansteffan to Llandeilo between February and April.

Dr Alissa Flatley of University of Wales Trinity Saint David, who has been advising the group, expressed concern at the findings. 

A photo of the Tywi taken by locals

Dr Flatley said: “Over 225 water samples were tested over the course of the pilot project, and most show elevated levels of phosphates, nitrates and nitrites, exceeding limits for a healthy river system. Using the expertise of the citizen scientists, tests were carried out to highlight areas of concern in the catchment, and we can see already significant changes in the water quality from upstream to downstream.

“This can now be expanded upon in the next phase of the project to further isolate areas of concern helping to produce evidence beyond that of the limited Water Framework Directive testing that occurs”.

“Whilst the data shows us elevated nitrates, nitrites and phosphates, the additional photographs and videos that have been collected really show a river system in decline and the pervasive discharge of rubbish into the river system”

Julie Rees of the Carmarthen Coracle & Netsmen’s Association also spoke of the frustration facing the fishermen as year after year they continue to witness and report pollution incidents that they say are either ignored or actioned too late, when the spillage has left the river system.

Tim Prince of Carmarthen Together compared the testing to a roadside breathalyser, where if you fail, you are subjected to a more scrutinised test back at the station.

Simple citizen science testing has provided a snapshot of the condition of the water which relevant authorities need to take seriously.

The group will not be resting on their laurels. David Jenkins at Sero, who has been coordinating the pilot project, expressed his gratitude to the committed volunteers who are regularly visiting our rivers to monitor water quality on behalf of the community.

He outlined plans to extend testing to the whole of the Tywi catchment, and add to the range of testing techniques deployed to date.  “The mood in this meeting was pretty clear. This community led campaign intends to clean up our beautiful Tywi.”

Past issues

Mekatek made headlines in May 2013 when it was fined £55,000 after health and safety inspectors had to issue notices to immediately halt a range of work activities.

The site run by Mekatek Ltd at Amex Park, Johnstown was subject to a routine inspection by Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspectors when a number of serious safety issues were discovered, including access to unguarded dangerous machinery, exposure to risk of electrocution and areas contaminated by asbestos containing materials.

Mekatek Ltd, Johnstown. Image: Google

Mekatek Ltd was prosecuted by HSE at a hearing before Swansea Crown Court, where a catalogue of dangerous points were detailed.

At the time, Mekatek Ltd of Terminus Road, Sheffield, pleaded guilty to a breach of health and safety regulations, a single breach of control of asbestos regulations and a breach of work equipment regulations and was fined a total of £35,000 and ordered to pay £20,000 in costs.

Speaking after the hearing, HSE Inspector Clare Owen said: “The conditions at this site were extremely poor and the dangers were quite clear. It’s very fortunate no-one was killed or seriously injured there.

“Mekatek failed to manage basic health and safety at the site and these multiple failings confirm its approach was totally inadequate. The issues identified, such as cables trailing through liquid and management of asbestos should have been immediately obvious.

“The management also relied on health and safety managers it employed for advice but failed to check if they were competent and had appropriate qualifications, particularly for the management of asbestos.

“Twenty tradespeople, on average, die from asbestos related diseases in Britain every week and it’s the biggest single cause of work related deaths in the country.

“The lives of the 34 workers at the site and any visitors depended on the company meeting its legal health and safety obligations fully.”

Response

A spokesperson for NRW said: “Natural Resources Wales (NRW) was made aware of a video posted on the Carmarthen Coracle and Netsmen’s Association Facebook account showing a foam substance discharging into the River Tywi at 2am on 27 June 2024 from the outfall linked to Mekatek Ltd’s permitted emission point.

“A similar incident was reported to NRW as having been observed at 7am on 28 June 2024. Upon receiving notification of the reported incident, NRW contacted the operator requesting urgent investigation into the matter, CCTV footage of the outfall at the time of the report, and emission sampling results for the last 24 hours.

“Foam from Mekatek’s effluent can sometimes appear in the final discharge to the Tywi. It may occur as a result of the organic matter in the effluent and aeration from oxygen bubbles created as it passes through the stages of the Effluent Treatment Plant (ETP) and would not be considered a polluting material. Foam can be exacerbated by the level of drop from the outfall to the rocks on the bank of the Tywi at varying states of the tide. Anti-foam additive is injected into the treated final effluent prior to discharge to disperse bubbles in the foam.

“Initial investigations from the operator have identified an intermittent fault on the operator’s anti-foam dosing system as the probable explanation for the foam observed on 27 and 28 June. The fault has been corrected and measures to monitor the dosing system implemented. NRW has requested the full weekly sampling analysis results from the operator and an upcoming site compliance inspection will have a focus on the ETP and discharge point.

“The operator is required by the environmental permit to submit its sampling and analysis results of the emission discharge into the Tywi at the end of every quarter. Based on the results submitted by the operator, in Quarter 1 of 2024 (January to March) the discharge was compliant with all emission limit parameters in the permit.

:NRW would like to take this opportunity to reiterate the importance of timely and reporting of environmental events such as this directly to NRW to enable us to enable us to respond accordingly to incidents. Call NRW’s 24/7 incident line on 0300 065 3000 or report online.”

Nation.Cymru contacted Mekatek on 3 July but has yet to receive a response.


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John Ellis
John Ellis
8 days ago

This sort of thing is an inevitable consequence of the austerity agenda. It’s also a consequence of the political right’s obsession with reducing regulation – ‘cutting all that red tape which hampers business’ – though presumably that’s less of an issue in Wales in the context of responsibilities and competences which are devolved.

Valerie Matthews
Valerie Matthews
7 days ago

This is truly disgusting! WHY can no one get their act together and stop the Sh*t literally! It cannot be that hard, others in the World do it!

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