UK News

True scale of sewage horror emerges as water firms admit polluting for DECADES | UK | News UK News

PMQs: Ed Davey questions Rishi Sunak on sewage

Last weekend, the World Triathlon Championship in Sunderland saw no less than 57 competitors fall ill with sickness and diarrhoea.

Aquatic horror stories like this are being reported across the country with increasing frequency – often tied to what looks like an unprecedented amount of sewage being released into Britain’s rivers and seas.

One salient fact leads the way: Environment Agency (EA) data show wastewater was discharged over 300,000 times in 2022 – equivalent to roughly 800 times a day.

Campaigners, the public, their representatives in local and national Government and even the water companies themselves agree: this is too much and something should be done.

It isn’t, however, anything new — we just didn’t know it was happening, can reveal.

READ MORE: Photos show ‘sewage’ pouring into sea near popular beach where people swim in

No body of water is spared, some 15,000 storm overflows operate across Britain (Image: GETTY)

How much sewage is being released?

In short: 1.75 million hours last year – about 200 years’ worth.

Although this is substantially less than the 2.67 million hours of monitored discharges in 2021, it remains a tenfold increase on levels seen just five years earlier.

The EA described the 2022 figure as “totally unacceptable.” Yet this uptick is far from the full story.

Why is this happening?

In 1989, then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher sold off England and Wales’ water and sewage industry for £7.6billion (£17.9billion) – making Britain the first country in the world to do so. The patchwork of 11 private monopolies we know today was born.

Swathes of the sewer network date back to Victorian times, but the number of toilets, bathrooms and kitchens pouring into these pipes has increased dramatically since then.

In the event of a downpour, Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs) act as an emergency valve that can be opened to prevent dirty water from backing up into homes.

Legislation makes it clear, however, that these are to be used in “exceptional circumstances” only.

Water suppliers in Britain

Britain’s private water suppliers have a monopoly in the areas they serve (Image: Express)

How have things got so bad?

The Met Office says there is some evidence to suggest climate change is making extreme rain more common, which could explain some of the rise in CSO usage.

Last year, the Environmental Audit Committee’s assessment of river water quality read: “The sewerage system is overloaded and unable to cope with the increasing pressures of housing development, the impact of heavier rainfall, and a profusion of plastic and other non-biodegradable waste clogging up the system.”

It noted that there had been investment in the network since privatisation, but not at an adequate pace.

More recently, Brexit and the pandemic have also had a noted impact. The disruption to the supply chain of chemicals used to treat wastewater led the EA to issue temporary waivers permitting the release of not-fully-treated effluents into the environment.

But this still doesn’t explain the sudden uptick in the past few years.

The single largest driver behind the sharp increase in recorded sewage discharges is, in fact, the equally sharp increase in the number of devices installed to record them. Industry and charities alike echo this point.

In 2016, just 862 of Britain’s 15,000-odd storm overflows had so-called Event Duration Monitors (EDMs) in place. By 2022, this figure was 13,080 – 15 times higher.

Water UK, the sector’s trade association, told this “huge increase in monitoring” means a “much higher proportion of spills are now detected – only ten percent of overflows were monitored a few years ago, compared with 90 percent today and 100 percent by the end of the year.”

With this in mind, the mean number of spills per CSO in a given year is a far more judicious way of determining whether more sewage is actually being released.

Nationwide, an average of 35.4 spills per monitor were tracked in 2019, 32.6 in 2020, 29.4 in 2021 and 22 last year.

So is water quality actually worsening?

Raw sewage contains harmful pathogens that can have serious consequences for human health. It also floods natural habitats with nutrients that facilitate algal blooms that harm plants and animals.

Changing testing methods make historical water quality comparisons difficult. Looking at the past few years only yields mixed results.

In 2020, not a single river in England and Wales was classified as being in overall good health, according to The Rivers Trust. Last year’s House of Commons committee similarly concluded none were contamination free.

Some 400 areas designated as bathing waters in England – in the sea as well as in rivers and lakes – are regularly tested for E coli and intestinal enterococci by the EA throughout the summer season.

Back in 2021, the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) claimed: “In the early Nineties, for example, just 28 percent of bathing waters met the highest standards in force at that time.

“Based on data from 2019, 98.3 percent of bathing waters now meet the minimum standard, with 93 percent reaching the highest standards of ‘Excellent’ or ‘Good’.”

In 2022, these rates had fallen slightly to 97.1 percent meeting the minimum standard and 72.1 percent being classed as “Excellent”.


This widget requires javascript to work.

Much ado about nothing?

No. Simply, instead of sewage pollution becoming suddenly rampant, greater transparency has enabled campaigners to shed intense light on such Victorian practices ongoing for decades.

Josh Harris, head of communications of marine conservation charity Surfers Against Sewage (SAS), told “The tireless efforts of campaigners have pressured water companies to open up, shining a light on the appalling extent of their sewage dumping.

“Add in the industry’s lack of investment in its creaking infrastructure and you begin to understand the reason for the shocking scale of the sewage scandal. They say that sunlight is the best disinfectant but it’s clear we’re going to need a lot more than sunlight to clean up the stinking mess that water companies have made of our rivers, lakes and seas.”

In May, Water UK put out an unprecedented apology saying campaigners were “right to be upset about the current quality of our rivers and beaches” and vowed to invest £10billion to reduce discharges.

By the time of the local elections, water quality was on the minds of many voters and the issue shot to the top of the political agenda. 

Surfers Against Sewage

Surfers Against Sewage staged a paddle protest earlier this year (Image: PA)

The crux of improvements to the current system revolves around infrastructure investment and harsher penalties for excessive CSO use.

Industry regulator Ofwat claimed the water companies’ current performance was “simply not good enough.” It said: “We have pushed companies to take urgent action to cut sewage discharges and have recently announced new measures to penalise companies that fail to fully monitor their storm overflows.”

The Government has instructed firms to fit all of their storm overflows with monitoring devices by the end of the year.

Ofwat added: “Over the last few years, we have imposed penalties of over £250million and we are currently running our biggest ever investigation into six companies on sewage spills. We will keep pushing on all fronts to bring about the improvements that the public rightly expects.”

A Defra spokesperson said: “We have been clear that volume of sewage being discharged into our waters is utterly unacceptable. That is why our Plan for Water sets out increased investment, tougher enforcement and tighter regulation to tackle every source of river and sea pollution.

“We have scrapped the cap on civil penalties, set stringent targets for water companies and the EA has launched the largest criminal investigation ever into potential non-compliance at wastewater treatment works.”

More about this article: Read More
This notice was published: 2023-08-08 10:00:00

UK News

‘People think I’m a psychopath because I hate dogs’ | UK | News UK News

A woman who has become fed up of the UK obsession with pet pooches is journalist, Helen Carroll, who believes the nation has gone “canine crazy”.

She believes that owners always feel they have to “drag” the pets along to every event including “birthday parties” and “book clubs” and are too afraid of leaving them home alone for just a few hours.

She even questions why people have to appear interested in other people’s dogs and why people “talk endlessly” on social media about the canines.

Writing for the Mail Online, Ms Carroll recalls an unfortunate incident where she was once knocked over by a dog.

She said: “I have some insight into how they must feel, having been knocked to the ground from behind, by an over-excited mid-sized poodle while running in a park earlier this year.”

She aired her frustrations describing the owner even admitted their dog should have been kept on a leash.

For Ms Carroll, she reminisces about the days when dogs were ordered to stay in baskets and were not fully engrained in family life.

She adds: “If your face gives away the fact that you’d rather not be licked by a tongue recently used to clean a bottom, they [owners] look at you like you’re a psychopath.”

Her controversial opinion also questions why canines have found themselves in a “VIP position”.

According to statistics website, Statista, the population of dogs kept as pets in the UK was estimated at 13 million in 2020/2021.

A decade earlier in 2010/2011, the number of dogs kept as pets in the UK was a few million less and around 7.6 million, proving the uptake of dogs as pets has increased.

The Pet Food Industry Association say ten million or 34 per cent of UK households share their space with a pooch.

More about this article: Read More
This notice was published: 2023-08-07 21:39:00

UK News

Woman ‘left with no choice’ but to buy every packet of peanuts on budget flight | UK | News UK News

A woman with a severe nut allergy has claimed she had no choice but to buy up every single packet of peanuts on her flight after the cabin crew refused to ban them on board.

Leah Williams, 27, has had a lifelong allergy to the food. She asked staff on her Eurowings flight from Dusseldorf in Germany to London, to announce her allergy to passengers and request they do not buy or eat peanuts during the flight.

The staff allegedly dismissed her concerns which led to her forking out £144 to buy all 48 packets of nuts onboard.

The cost was almost three times the price of the £50 airfare she paid for her budget flight. 

The design worker from Hampshire claims she told staff: “Please do count them and I will pay for them all, seeing as you have left me with no choice.”

Ms Williams told the Mirror the airline should be “ashamed” of how they handled the situation and she is now requesting a refund for the nuts she purchased onboard.

A Eurowings spokesperson told the Independent: “We are very sorry that the flight with us did not go as smoothly as planned and we regret any inconvenience this has caused Leah Williams. One thing in advance: Leah Williams was not forced to buy all packages of peanuts on board – on the contrary, our purser tried to offer her an alternative solution by informing all passengers sitting around her about Leah’s allergy. She agreed at first but then decided to still buy all the packages.”

The airline says it is “unable to guarantee the aircraft is free of foodstuffs that may trigger an allergic reaction such as peanuts” because passengers are allowed to bring their own food onboard.

The airline also explained it is “not possible” to exclude the presence of peanut or nut traces because there could be existing residues from an earlier flight despite regular cleaning of planes.

A spokesperson added: “Our medically trained cabin crew always has access to medication to provide emergency medical care in the event of an intolerance or allergic shock on board.”

Passengers are advised by Eurowings to bring any medication they might need in hand luggage such as allergy medicines or EpiPens. People should also inform the cabin crew in advance if possible if they have an allergy.

It is important to note all airlines’ policies on allergies vary widely depending on the carrier.

More about this article: Read More
This notice was published: 2023-08-07 20:13:00