Stink over self-monitoring at Seafield sewage works

Rob Kirkwood at the Seafield sewage works. Picture: Ian Georgeson
Rob Kirkwood at the Seafield sewage works. Picture: Ian Georgeson
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CAMPAIGNERS against the “Seafield stench” claim the community will be left “defenceless” when the watchdog responsible for policing sewage works moves to a system of self-monitoring.

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) is rolling out a new way of working which asks individual facilities to check their own performance and send in the data, which SEPA will then audit.

But Rob Kirkwood, of the Leith Links Residents Association, which has regularly highlighted problems at the Seafield waste water treatment plant, said: “As a watchdog their teeth are being extracted.”

He said SEPA staff currently visit Seafield to do their own monitoring. Self-monitoring is due to be introduced from next January.

Mr Kirkwood said: “They are taking a step back and the only reason is they don’t have the resources. They will only intervene if the public complains – in other words, we have to do the job for them.

“That, together with the fact the council no longer serves enforcement notices means we are now defenceless as a community.”

SEPA’s new approach is set out in its Regulatory Evidence Strategy. But the document admits: “Self-interest creates an incentive to present a site in its best light and there is a risk that reporting will be biased, with operators avoiding monitoring/reporting poor performance.”

It says SEPA monitoring is independent and objective. But it goes on: “The resources available to SEPA constrain the number of visits and time period during which visits are made.”

Mr Kirkwood said: “They recognise that it is in the self-interest of facilities to lie, but they don’t address that, they simply go on to say they will receive the samples and they will respond if people complain.

“Essentially their role will no longer be to monitor, but to audit self-monitoring. They are trying to maintain the fiction they are still watchdogs, but it is a fiction.

“People in SEPA may be concerned about this too because their role is being reduced.”

Martin Marsden, SEPA’s head of environmental quality, said the new approach meant resources could be reallocated from routine monitoring of low-risk sites to more targeted monitoring of activities that had the biggest environmental impact.

“We will be working closely with all operators to ensure that they provide data to us quickly and accurately, so we can check compliance and take swift action if necessary.

“It’s important to stress that self-monitoring does not mean self-regulation. The strategy places a requirement on operators to monitor their processes and submit the data to us, but compliance will be determined by SEPA based on monitoring data from operators and our own data.

“In the event of any licence breaches or pollution incidents our response remains unchanged. All incidents will be investigated and, where appropriate, enforcement action taken to ensure compliance.”