‘Chemical cocktail’ of sewage, slurry and plastic polluting English rivers puts public health and nature at risk - Environmental Audit Committee

UK Parliament / Gabriel Sainhas
UK Parliament / Gabriel Sainhas

Poor water quality in English rivers is a result of chronic underinvestment and multiple failures in monitoring, governance and enforcement, the Environmental Audit Committee warns

Only 14% of English rivers meet good ecological status, with pollution from agriculture, sewage, roads and single-use plastics contributing to a dangerous ‘chemical cocktail’ coursing through our waterways. Not a single river in England has received a clean bill of health for chemical contamination.

Outdated, inadequate and underfunded monitoring

It is currently difficult to get a complete overview of the health of rivers due to outdated, underfunded and inadequate monitoring. Budget cuts to the Environment Agency have hampered the ability to monitor water quality in rivers and detect permit breaches or pollution incidents from the water industry and farming.

River quality monitoring does not routinely identify microplastics, persistent chemical pollutants or anti-microbial resistant pathogens flowing through rivers.

The Committee heard that, until the passing of the Environment Act last year, there had been a lack of political will to improve water quality, with successive governments, water companies and regulators seemingly turning a blind eye to antiquated practices of dumping sewage and other pollutants in rivers.

Public health risks

Bacteria found in sewage and animal slurry can cause sickness. Yet few river users are able to make informed decisions about when it is safe to use rivers downstream of storm overflows and wastewater treatment works.

The report recommends that the Environment Agency work with water companies to ensure that easily accessible information on sewage discharges, in as near to real time as possible, is made publicly available. The MPs are also calling on the Government actively to encourage the designation of at least one widely used stretch of river for bathing in each water company area by 2025.

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Posted On: 13/01/2022

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