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Wash away? not today, or any other day

What started as a mission to rescue a beloved lawn during a hosepipe ban became a catalyst for one man to provide an industrial spill containment solution that saves companies time, money, the risk of damaging the environment, prosecution and ultimately the business loss that polluting leads to.

Before we get to the scary stuff, David Cole, technical director of Sandfield Penstock Solutions, is keen to point out that effective water pollution prevention is now achievable and much less expensive and disruptive than one may imagine compared to any proposed more traditional solutions.

Now for the scary bit. “It is now a criminal offence to pollute,” Cole tells Foundry Trade Journal. “Every business is supposed to have procedures in place to prevent pollution following the 2015 changes to UK sentencing guidelines for the environment. This should be a wake-up call for industry, especially the foundry sector, as environment sentencing guidelines now base fines on group revenues not individual company turnover. This could prove financially catastrophic in the event of a spillage, fire or flood at a small foundry which is part of a larger group. There are plenty of chemicals and additives in foundry processes and if they reach the environment, it is a pollution issue. Facilities and environmental managers really need to read the CIRIA736 guidance and take the opportunity to understand its implications.”

Cole also warns that insurance doesn’t provide an answer: “You can’t insure against pollution as causing pollution is a criminal offence. Also, The Environment Agency is now a regulator with powers to close offending businesses and is no longer just concerned with providing guidance. Companies are expected to get independent advice and evidence that they have done everything that is reasonably practicable to prevent polluting the environment.”

Potential pollutants obviously include the chemicals, lubricants and fuels that every foundry will be managing onsite, however in the wrong circumstances, rainwater and firefighting agents such as foam can pose a significant risk.

Cole is best placed to offer advice on water pollution prevention, having been a member of the committee that compiled the CIRIA736 best practice guidance ‘Containment Systems for the Prevention of Pollution’. The Buncefield fuel depot fire in 2005 – the result of an overflowing tank of motor fuel which caused several explosions, leading to a groundwater pollution disaster, followed by civil and criminal liability – eventually led to the drafting of the new guidance. The disaster highlighted the fact that the containment designs of the time had completely failed to prevent the pollution release.

Cole is passionate about water pollution prevention and has been designing solutions for water containment since the 1990s when he took to his garage to find a way of keeping his newly laid lawn alive during a hosepipe ban. He invented a rainwater harvesting system, a simple valve solution to contain water that would otherwise have been wasted. He took this system to academics at Warwick University who advised it could have a useful industrial application. He sought business backing and further developed the product to provide a method for materials that could cause pollution to be contained in drainage systems during a spill, fire or flood. The aim is to contain hazardous or toxic materials and isolate them, so they can be more easily removed, rather than making their way to the environment.

Although Cole now works at Sandfield Penstock Solutions, experts in water pollution prevention, he is fully aware of the complexities of the foundry industry. He was employed at Ford’s Leamington foundry for many years which is where he first implemented his now industry-leading spill containment and water pollution prevention systems and processes. “What I noticed at Ford was if there was a spill incident everybody went into panic mode,” he said “You can’t rely on people in that situation to do the right thing, especially if they have the wrong equipment. Using a spill kit to clear up offensive materials essentially adds more liquid to the problem. Our solutions are smart, surely if your phone is smart, your television is smart and your fridge is smart … doesn’t it make sense that your pollution prevention systems should be smart?” The systems that Cole provides are self-reporting, can be triggered automatically by fire alarms, street lamps, hoses going on or off or remotely with a smart phone.

Cole says: “In the event of a spill, fire or flood, you need to stop the flow off site. Flooding loading bays or car parks to contain the materials is much better than draining into a river that can very quickly carry pollution for miles, causing huge environmental, financial and negative public relations damages. The flow should be stopped automatically.”

In addition to a hefty fine – up to £50,000 in the magistrates court and unlimited in crown court – clean-up costs can also be considerable. Quite frankly, pollution could cost a company everything!


“If there is a ‘chink’ of negligence you are culpable,” Cole warns. “The solution is not complicated but complacency might prevent appropriate action. Companies are resting on a false peace of mind if they have the incorrect equipment fitted. You must understand the ‘source’, e.g. water, fire, chemicals; the ‘pathway’, which is the drain; and the ‘receptor’, which is the thing you mustn’t pollute, e.g. the ground or the river.”

What can foundry owners do to mitigate this risk?

Cole tells us: “The first step has to be to understand your liability. I would urge any environmental manager, facilities manager or health & safety manager who hasn’t yet done so to read CIRIA736. You can then start to think about how the guidance pertains to your particular site or sites.

“It is important to fully understand the protection you have in place for managing pollution release from a spill, fire or flood. At Buncefield that protection didn’t work, and they destroyed two water extraction plants. They were supposed to contain the water runoff, but the pollution containment valve failed, costing upwards of seventy million pounds. The two issues were that the company didn’t fully know what would happen if anything went wrong, and they were using the wrong valve, a simple Penstock valve – a flow control device not a pollution containment device.”


Understanding the site

Cole explains a potential scenario: “Imagine you had a fire and whilst the fire brigade was fighting it, it started to rain – all of that material is now being washed away down the drains – that is pollutant. What happens if a hose blows on a delivery lorry/tank to your site? You would be liable, even though it isn’t your lorry. You have to have a plan to contain the spillage, to control the disaster. How quickly would your drainage valves close?”

Sandfield Penstock Solutions provides advice and solutions for flow isolation, environmental monitoring and firewater containment. The company’s solutions begin with a spill modelling process which determines how much material is contained on a site and what could occur in a number of disastrous scenarios. This data empowers company leaders to evidence the worst that could happen and develop an appropriate response. If the drainage is contained there is time to respond and avert a catastrophe. By understanding the volumes of water involved, a solution can be designed accordingly, offering an appropriate solution to a potential problem. “Model the problem, block the drains (so the problem is contained on the site), then see how long you have,” Cole explains. “Companies are going to have hydraulic leaks, forklifts knock over barrels, pollution events happen –so, it’s important to learn how to manage the worse-case scenario.

“It is important to fully understand a site, which is where the spill modelling process is so beneficial. Sites are expected to have up to date drainage plans but there is no point in blocking a drain if you don’t know where that drain is going. We need to determine the source and the pathway. This way we can understand which drains to block and how to flood the site.

“The worst thing I experience is businesses spending too much money on systems that don’t work!” Cole states. “Historically the answer was to build bund walls around any areas of risk. This is hugely expensive, disruptive and on the evidence of Buncefield, simply doesn’t work.” As Sandfield Penstock Solutions is spill modelling sites they are able to design solutions appropriate to the risk, often incorporating existing infrastructure like roads, car parks, kerbs, even sleeping policeman. This greatly reduces the need for extensive bund walling along with the associated costs and disruption.   

Speed is of the essence, valves should close in seconds to stop the flow. “Penstock valves don’t work for many sites,” Cole warns. In a recent blog, he explained that the industry standard response to spill containment, which relies on “hugely expensive civil works like bunds and largely, ineffective, adapted penstock valves…doesn’t work.” He posted: “Businesses are run for profit and so there is always a cost justification that has to be weighed against all other benefits. The really good news is that spill containment technology has evolved to the point where investing in the environment will have a positive effect on your bottom line and help you sleep better at night.”

Sandfield’s pollution containment system includes Toggleblok™ valves, which seal any flow in seconds and utilise the drainage network for storage. The stand-alone valves are solar powered, as power is often lost in the event of a fire, and are ‘SMART’ systems, operated from mobile devices by means of Sandfield’s Sensorblok™ cloud-based monitoring system to operate alarms and activate data connected containment equipment.

Sandfield has pioneered automated containment valves and real time monitoring systems and David Cole regularly gives presentations at events concerned with spreading the word about water pollution containment.


Spill containment

At a basic level spill containment can be thought of in three containment policies or areas – primary, secondary and tertiary. 

Primary containment refers to the main means of preventing leaks and spills, the equipment that directly contains the materials being stored or transported.

Secondary containment is the area immediately around those containers which could include bunds, booms, drip trays, off-gas treatment systems, interceptors/sumps, expansion vessels, double skinned tanks/vessels, concentric pipes and building structures and ventilation. Secondary containment is essentially the second line of defence if the material containers were to fail.  

Tertiary literally means ‘third’ and is the third line of defence when primary or secondary containment fails.


Weather forecast

The guidelines also state that secondary containment should be frequently inspected and that any rainwater that has collected is removed regularly. If this is not the case, capacity should be increased to allow for the accumulation of rainwater between inspections and/or the time between its periodic removal. Remember, controlling the volume is critical to manage a problem so an understanding of the volume of material is imperative.

Where rainfall, or the management of rainfall, is likely to present a significant problem, providing a roof over the containment should be considered.

Contact: David Cole or Craig Holdback, Sandfield Penstock Solutions, Tel: +44 (0) 1299 823158, email: [email protected] web:

*‘Containment systems for the prevention of pollution – secondary, tertiary and other measures for industrial and commercial premises.’ CIRIA736. 2014.