Discharges from salad washing – Update

Salad washing on the Upper Itchen: A local problem with national significance…

Nick Measham , Deputy CEO, S&TC writes…….

S&TC’s battle to stop Bakkavör discharging pesticides and chlorinated plant-cleaning chemicals from its salad washing activities is achieving increased environmental protection, and not just for the Upper Itchen. [Previously covered by BBC Countryfile]

As a result of an Environment Agency investigation, in response to S&TC’s Environmental Damage challenge, both Bakkavör and The Watercress Company will be subject to individual pesticide discharge limits and required to carry out monitoring for a wide range of toxins.

The outcome so far is an improvement but much more remains to be done both on the Itchen and nationally to provide protection against pesticides in combination. Our fight to change national policy to require consideration of the impact of a mixture of pesticides continues.

Results so far:

  • On the Upper Itchen, the Environment Agency (EA) is seeking to revise the discharge permits of both Bakkavör and The Watercress Company’s to limit pesticide concentrations. Bakkavör discharges its overnight factory cleaning waste water directly into the river, but the daily water used to wash the salad leaves goes to The Watercress Company cress beds. TWC does not use pesticides in its growing activities and has therefore not been monitored up to now.
  • We understand Bakkavör is already trialling equipment to remove the pesticides from its discharges to enable it to meet the limits the EA imposes. The company has already stopped using chlorinated chemicals in its plant cleaning waste water.
  • It looks like the EA will require Vitacress’ salad washing plant on the Bourne Rivulet, a tributary of the Test, to meet the same pesticide discharge standards as Bakkavör.

What’s next?

  • The immediate next step is to ensure any revised discharge permits protect the river from the salad washing activities. While the EA has accepted the need for pesticide limits and associated monitoring, S&TC will scrutinise proposed permit changes, when they are published, to ensure the pesticide limits deliver the highest standards of protection currently available.
  • These current standards only consider pesticides individually not in the cocktail which is discharging into the Upper Itchen. There is an urgent need for the Government to investigate the impact of chronic, often low-level pesticide impacts in combination. We are extremely concerned about the impact of multiple different pesticides in combination. The EA’s investigation report following the Environmental Damage challenge in respect of the Upper Itchen refers to the risks on page 36:

“this poses a potential risk of exposure to invertebrates downstream of the discharge and being exposed to multiple different pesticide compounds intermittently at low concentrations (which may be above the Probable No Effect Concentration on infrequent occasions). 

 Current UK policy is to look at the effect of individual pesticides, not the effective exposure to a mixture. A change to policy is being considered at a European Union level, but we are a long way (temporally) from this policy being revised.”

This delay in acting on potentially lethal cocktails of pesticides is just plain wrong and, like so much government policy, completely ignores the precautionary principle. S&TC has written to Dr. Thérèse Coffey to ask what Defra intends to do about this on the Itchen, other SAC rivers and, indeed, any river.

Reporting with a purpose

S&TC is a national organisation and we use evidence from local case studies to help instigate policy changes that will benefit UK wild fish populations. But, this is just part of the value - we are making all our Riverfly Census findings available so they can be used to inform local management and drive action.

Each individual river report is based on three years of surveying data. Where possible, we have linked up our findings with other existing literature and data. Using the available information we suggest where local fishing and/or conservation groups can focus their management efforts to achieve the best health outcomes for each of the 12 original Census rivers.

Some of our local reports can be found on the slider below. Alternatively, visit the Riverfly Census page and scroll down to the map.