Raw sewage dumped on UK coast nearly 3,000 times in 12 months – report
Written by on 6 November 2020
Untreated sewage was discharged into coastal waters off England and Wales nearly 3,000 times over 12 months, an environmental campaign group has said.
The incidents, which affected some of the UK’s most popular beaches, caused pollution and made swimmers ill, according to a report by Surfers Against Sewage (SAS).
SAS recorded 2,941 examples of raw sewage pollution in English and Welsh waters in the 12 months to the end of September 2020.
No comparable data is available for previous years.
The discharges into UK bathing waters come from combined sewer overflows (CSOs) – emergency measures designed to release raw sewage and wastewater after extreme rainfall.
Their purpose is to relieve pressure in the system but they can cause short-term pollution incidents.
Hugo Tagholm, SAS chief executive, accused water companies of putting “profit before fully protecting the environment”.
He said: “This report demonstrates that rivers and oceans are being treated like open sewers as combined sewer overflows are used as a routine method for disposing of sewage, instead of in the exceptional circumstances under which it is permitted.
“Even worse, some – like Southern Water – are not even notifying the public when they do this so people cannot make informed decisions about their own health.
“This feels particularly horrifying in a year where we are all battling the COVID-19 pandemic, a virus that is being tracked through sewage works.”
SAS accused Southern Water of failing to send CSO notifications during the entire summer swimming season, between May and September.
A Southern Water spokesman said it is improving its service with input from groups including SAS.
But the worst performer, the conservation charity said, was South West Water (SWW), for its number of CSO discharge notifications per 10,000km (6213 miles) of sewerage network.
In response, a SWW spokesman said the report was “biased against those water companies which are monitoring and sharing information more proactively”.
The SAS report highlighted severe cases where two water users needed antibiotics for gastroenteritis issues due to exposure to poor water quality in Bournemouth and in Marazion, near Penzance.
In addition, a respondent said they needed emergency care for severe abdominal pain after bathing at Mwnt Beach, Cardigan, Wales.
Campaigners are calling for a range of new measures including investment from water companies in sewerage infrastructure to eventually end the use of emergency sewage overflows.
An Environment Agency spokesperson said UK bathing waters “have dramatically improved” and promised to pursue firms found to be damaging the environment.
The spokesperson said: “In 2019 alone we successfully prosecuted four water companies for water pollution offences – resulting in GBP1,297,000 in fines.”