MCS kicks up a stink over number of untreated sewage discharges throughout UK
New research shows there are thousands more of these discharges in water company ownership than previously thought
We have obtained new information from water companies and environmental regulators throughout the UK that reveals, for the first time, the full extent of the problem of discharges of raw sewage to the environment. The time has come for the water industry to clean up its act.
It was previously thought there were about 22,000 discharges – the vast majority of which are known as combined sewer overflows (CSOs) and emergency overflows (EOs). However, using Environmental Information Regulations, we have discovered that the Environment Agency uses another four terms for raw sewage discharges that are not widely understood by the public. Taking these into account, the number of raw sewage outfalls in operation in England and Wales is actually more like 31,000, instead of the usually published figure of 22,000.
CSOs and EOs are designed to act as emergency outlets for overloaded sewerage systems during periods of heavy rainfall, but can discharge at other times as well, to lakes, rivers, estuaries and coastal waters.
Our Pollution Programme Manager, Dr Robert Keirle, said: "MCS accepts that CSOs and EOs are an essential part of a well-managed and maintained sewerage network, if sited, used and monitored appropriately. However, MCS insists that they should not be used for routine discharge of excess sewage, as an alternative to increasing the capacity of sewers to cope with a growing population".
Our new research shows numerous CSOs around the UK coastline, discharging well in excess of the permitted amount of ten times per annum, and one CSO discharged to the Kent coast for more than 1,000 hours during the bathing water season last year. "This looks suspiciously like a water company not making sufficient investment in its sewerage network, which can potentially put the health of beach goers in the area of that CSO at risk," continued Dr Keirle.
This research was done by MCS in order to produce its first ever CSO policy, which has just been published. This document sets out what MCS expects the UK administrations, water companies and individuals to do in order to improve the coastal environment, it also states what MCS is planning to do.
One significant issue the policy has highlighted is that the public doesn't know where all these overflow pipes are, if they are monitored, and when, and for how long, the sewage is flowing into the sea. "Mapping costs relatively little, yet it could make the difference between an enjoyable trip to the beach or one that ends up in A&E with ear, nose and throat infections or stomach upsets" said Dr Keirle.