Criminal proceedings opened over large-scale river pollution incident

Dead fish following the Umbusi River pollution.
Dead fish following the Umbusi River pollution. Source: Silver Vahi

The Environmental Board (Keskonnaamet) has initiated criminal proceedings in order to identify the cause and source of pollution in a South Estonian river which led to the poisoning of thousands of fish.

The scale of the pollution and subsequent damage to the environment has been greater than initially estimated, hence the start of criminal proceedings, the Environmental Board says.

Rainer Vakra, the board's Director General, said carrying out a thorough examination of the Umbusi River in Jõgeva County, will: "Find out the impact of the pollution on the water quality and aquatic life of the Umbusi River.

Based on the relevant statute, the Environmental Liability Act: "We will set obligations needed to repair the damage caused to the natural environment. The Environmental Board's goal is to restore the water body and its ecosystem as quickly as possible," Vakra went on.

At least 5,000 brown trout, and thousands of other aquatic species, including crayfish, were exterminated as a result of the pollution, whose origin is thought to have been a faulty storm drain at a silage farm in Põltsamaa

Vakra added that: "In the course of the criminal proceedings, our desire is to thoroughly investigate and ascertain all the circumstances of the case which led to the pollution of the Umbusi River.

"We will also clarify the extent of the damage caused in cooperation with the prosecutor's office. Estonian nature can be very vulnerable when certain conditions arise - therefore we urge companies operating in the natural environment to review all their work processes, risks and their mitigating measures. In order to prevent such cases in the future, the measures used for this must be appropriate," Vakra went on.

Lembit Paal, director of Pajusi ABF, the company which operated the facility, said: "Debris had accumulated in the filters in front of the storm drain, resulting in the silage effluent over-spilling its edge and finding its way into a culvert, whence in flowed into the Umbusi and then into the river." 

 The investigation will be led by the Prosecutor's Office, Southern District.

Senior prosecutor at the office, Kristiina Laas, confirmed that criminal proceedings will determine the damage caused to the Umbusi river, as well as its cause and extent. 

Upon conviction, the court may sentence the perpetrator to a fine or up to a year in jail (in practice most such sentences issued in Estonia are suspended – ed.), while those found culpable must compensate for damage caused to the natural environment.

The board's proceedings were initiated § 365, subsection 1.1 of the Estonian Penal Code, which would view incident as constituting environmental pollution due to a lack of due care and attention.

The Environmental Board determined on Sunday, July 31, that silage effluent from the AS Pajus ASB farm had leaked into the Umbusi river. While it had been localized and its spread halted that evening, and was reportedly receding by the end of the following week, this was too late for thousands of fish and would also require weeks until water quality was restored to its earlier levels.

The 45-km long Umbusi river flows into the Pedja; the Pedja is itself a tributary of the the Emajõgi, Estonia's second largest, and only navigable, river, by water discharge, and which ultimately flows into Peisi järv.


Follow ERR News on Facebook and Twitter and never miss an update!

Editor: Andrew Whyte

Hea lugeja, näeme et kasutate vanemat brauseri versiooni või vähelevinud brauserit.

Parema ja terviklikuma kasutajakogemuse tagamiseks soovitame alla laadida uusim versioon mõnest meie toetatud brauserist: