Inadequate controls: Raw sewage pollutes UK rivers

Inadequate controls: Raw sewage pollutes UK rivers


Europe Magazine

Status: 06/11/2022 1:49 PM

The rivers of Britain are among the dirtiest rivers in Europe. The agency has been issuing warnings after swimmers fell ill after swimming in the Thames. This is not enough for the workers.

By Sven Lohmann, ARD Studio London

On a branch of the Thames, Britain’s second longest but certainly the most famous river, stand with an indignant expression on the faces of Joe Sandelson and Claire Sr. Both of them have agreed to swim with towels on their shoulders this morning. However, it will not be used: a brownish broth flows between them. “Disgusting” is what they say. “We shouldn’t put up with it.”

sven lohmann
ARD studio london

A look at the cell phone explains the reason. Regional water company Thames Water has discharged untreated sewage into the river. Since a few months ago, swimmers are getting sick after swimming, for doing so the water company is sending an alert to the public. Sandelson and Sr. aren’t just passionate swimmers. You are also part of the group that has set out to end sewage discharge.

“feces, chemicals, bacteria”

Ashley Smith is a member of a different group but has the same goal. He used to be a police officer and now, as a pensioner, uses his experience as an investigator. In a stream that eventually flows into the Thames, he takes pictures with an underwater camera. There is also a treatment plant nearby for water supplier Thames Water. From there the purified water from the pipe goes into the river.

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Right next to it, Smith points to the second pipe. From time to time, the water supplier will discharge untreated, purified wastewater from there: “human excreta, along with chemicals and bacteria.” The last time this happened was two days ago. His underwater recordings still show his traces today.

In the UK, water companies are exceptionally allowed to discharge sewage into rivers. when the pool and sewer are full; For example after heavy rain. But only in such situations. It is estimated that in 2020 this has happened more than 400,000 times across the country. It seems a bit common for an exception to be made.

Activists take water samples from polluted rivers, evaluate them and send the results to authorities – with little success so far.

Activists document illegal activities

Smith’s group has collected extensive data comparing information from water companies with their own observations and recordings, when exceptions were approved and when wastewater actually flowed into rivers. “We found a lot of illegal activities,” he says. Other groups that are suspected of greed for profit behind sewage in rivers also agree with the allegations leveled by them.

The government supervisory authority rarely regulates water: it largely depends on information provided by the water suppliers themselves. However, they have launched an investigation since becoming aware of the possible illegal discharge, the authority said six months ago.

Smith and his group feel convinced that if change is to change, they must control the rivers themselves. Britain’s rivers are among the dirtiest in Europe. According to official data, only 14 percent had a good ecological standard in 2020.

Citizens took water samples

Pollution from sewage and agriculture is also the main reason for the serious condition of the rivers. In many places in Great Britain, groups have been formed that regularly take samples, evaluate them and send the results to the authorities. This should increase the pressure. Especially since the water suppliers have now admitted to the irregularities. “But only partially,” Smith says. They recently discovered a previously unknown pipe on the Thames: three meters below the water’s surface and therefore not visible from the bank.

His underwater camera shows little appetite here: bits of human feces, fat eyes, wet wipes. A condom also comes out of the water supplier’s pipe. “Every time I come here, it’s worse than the time before,” Ashley says. Upon request, Thames Water states that every effort is made to minimize water discharge. And further: at the point in question, there has been no untreated water left for over a year.

Ashley Smith wants to hand over her recordings to the authorities – even though she firmly hopes nothing will happen afterwards. He suspects the government doesn’t want to put too much pressure on companies to keep water bills from rising for the population.

bath position trick

Upgrading the water system, which dates back to the Victorian era, would be an extremely costly undertaking. The Environment Ministry has now announced a package of billions for the expansion of infrastructure. However, according to the responsible minister George Eustice, it could take 20 years for reforms to take place.

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Sandelson and Claire Sr. don’t want to wait that long with their group. He is also among the countless volunteers who regularly take samples and give them to the authorities.

Poking in the water: London’s waterworks have yet to function, despite obvious shortcomings in water quality.

But since this did not mean that they could now swim in the river without hesitation, they resorted to another trick: they applied for official bathing status for a certain section – and have now received it. . Officials there are now required to regularly check water quality and can fine water companies if they cause pollution – a strategy the group hopes.

You can see this and other reports in Europamagazine on Sunday – for the first time at 12.45 pm.

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