Water companies will be able to use less ferric sulphate, used to suppress algae © David Goddard/Getty Images
Water companies will be able to use less ferric sulphate, used to suppress algae © David Goddard/Getty Images

Water treatment rules eased due to chemicals supply 'failures'

8 September 2021

Public services including water companies and bin collection services are the latest to be hit by HGV driver shortages.

The Environmental Agency (EA) issued new guidance to water companies saying they would be allowed to temporarily reduce the amount of chemicals used to treat wastewater before it is returned to rivers. 

The EA issued the guidance because firms have not been able to secure enough ferric sulphate, which is used to suppress the growth of algae, due to "unavoidable supply chain failures".

This will apply until the end of the year. However it will not apply to the highest risk category of waste “because the risk is too great”, the EA said. 

Water UK made it clear the issues are not being caused by a shortage of ferric sulphate itself, but “solely” by distribution difficulties.

The government is understood to be considering changes to HGV testing to speed up the process to allow for a greater pool of UK drivers, according to the BBC. 

The changes will mean up to 3,000 drivers will be able to be tested per week and, with a current pass rate of 56%, an extra could 1,600 could be qualified each week. 

A spokesperson for Water UK said: “We are currently experiencing some disruption to the supply in England of ferric sulphate, a chemical used at some drinking and waste water treatment sites.

"This will not affect the supply of drinking water. As a precaution, however, we are monitoring the situation due to the use of ferric sulphate in some waste treatment works.

"We are working closely with government and our chemical suppliers to ensure disruption is minimised.

"This issue has arisen due to a shortage of HGV drivers in the UK. There is no shortage of ferric sulphate in factories; the issue is solely one of distribution."

Tim Doggett, chief executive of the Chemical Business Association, told the BBC: "Our member companies have been reporting ever increasing difficulties in sourcing and maintaining deliveries into the chemical supply chain, all of which we have been highlighting to government.

"Inevitably these issues are now beginning to impact our water supply. As such we're now calling on government for urgent and increased action to help tackle these issues.”

Almost 20 councils across the UK have reported facing difficulties in carrying out bin collections due to a shortage of drivers. 

Three councillors from North Devon wrote to home secretary Priti Patel calling on the government to allow EU drivers temporary visas to fill the shortages.

They said North Devon Council was attempting to fill seven HGV vacancies, Torbay Council eight vacancies, and Teignbridge Council 10 vacancies, equating to approximately 20% of their HGV workforce.

Meanwhile, Halfords has reported bike sales have dropped by 26% year-on-year due to supply chain disruptions. 

The bike and motoring company said it was facing difficulties recruiting service technicians and HGV drivers, while raw material prices and limits on factory production had impacted the number of bikes the company could source. 

Bookseller Waterstones also warned there could be book shortages this Christmas due to the driver shortages. 

James Daunt, CEO of Waterstones, told the Guardian the company had increased stocks by a quarter to avoid disruption in the short term, but this wouldn't protect supplies for Christmas. 

He said: “We will have shops fuller than ever before to make sure we don’t get caught by logistics problems as we did last year. My concern is that at the beginning of December if we need 50,000 copies of whatever, and it’s not there.”

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