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Environment Agency - Advice for business and consumers on risks during thaw

Environment Agency bosses in the South are urging businesses and individuals to seek advice about potential environmental problems and safety impacts that may come during the thaw.

Environment Agency bosses in the South are urging businesses and individuals to seek advice about potential environmental problems and safety impacts that may come during the thaw.

“It’s important that we offer guidance where necessary and reassurance when needed,” explained Toby Willison the Environment Agency’s regional director for the south. “We work closely with all our business partners to ensure the environment is protected whatever the weather. However, individuals also need to be clear on the things they can do to protect themselves and the environment, even if it’s simple advice such as regularly checking pipes for damage.”

On potential flood risks during the thaw he added, “Our teams across the region continue to monitor river levels and changing weather forecasts. People can find out more information and sign up for free flood warnings by visiting our website at www.environment-agency.gov.uk or by calling 0845 988 1188.”

Salt and grit used in de-icing:

Salt, or sodium chloride, is the most commonly used material for de-icing roads in winter. While there are minimal short-term impacts to the ecology of watercourses, the salt intake is not prolonged enough to cause significant long-term damage. As salt from roads tends to enter watercourses during a thaw, the salt is diluted relatively quickly.

Road run-off contains low levels of many potential pollutants which in some cases requires treatment through interceptors or settlement ponds in the drainage system before it enters watercourses. We have worked with the Highways Agency on this for many years to reduce the impact of road run-off in the UK.

Samples from streams taken in the spring have revealed no evidence of significant impact on wildlife from river salt intake. Water quality sampling has continued across the Southern region during the cold snap (image supplied).

Milk and Slurry:
In exceptional cases, the Environment Agency has temporarily agreed to allow some farmers to spread slurry and surplus milk on snow-covered or frozen soil, but there are strict conditions which have to be met beforehand. Farmers must speak to the Environment Agency first and be able to show:
• action has been taken to prevent storage overflowing;
• there is no alternative temporary storage available - including at a neighbour's farm - and there are no other environmentally acceptable options for disposal;
• the activity is unlikely to result in pollution.

Heating oil tanks:

Home owners across the south east who use heating oil are being urged to check their tanks and pipes to avoid pollution. Many people in Kent, Sussex and Hampshire, particularly in rural areas, burn heating oil to warm their homes and business premises.

Every winter there are several incidents of leaks from heating oil tanks in the region, resulting in oil seeping into the ground. This can have a devastating effect on the local environment, especially if the oil travels through the rock and into the water stored under the ground.

Problems with oil tanks can also have a devastating effect on homeowners as clean up costs can run in the tens of thousands of pounds, with these costs not always covered by home insurance policies. The clean-up operation can also involve the excavation of large areas of gardens and driveways to clean out leaked oil.


Don’t go near ice on ponds, canals, lakes and rivers is the message from the Environment Agency this winter, especially to children. The Environment Agency is also urging anglers to be cautious near rivers and lakes due to slippery banks and icy ground conditions underfoot. Stretches of the region’s waterways have been affected by ice and boat users are advised to take care at locks and note any safety signage.

Unnecessary risks:

As part of its advisory role, the Environment Agency has a simple message for businesses and consumers. If you need advice and support – or if you have any concerns regarding pollution or flooding - call us on the following numbers:

• For businesses: National Customer Contact Centre: 24hr: 08708 506 506
• For consumers: Environment Agency: 24hr incident hotline: 0800 80 70 60
• For all: Floodline: 24hr: 0845 988 1188

And for the minority of individuals and businesses who might be tempted to take advantage and cut corners, for example fly-tippers, Toby Willison issued this warning. “We will not hesitate to come down hard on those whose actions harm the environment,” he said.

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