‘Chemical cocktail’ of sewage and pollution risking public health

A UK cross-party parliamentary group has said England’s rivers are filled with a “chemical cocktail” of sewage, agricultural waste and plastic putting public health and nature at risk.

In a new report published this week, the Environmental Audit Committee said only 14% of English rivers meet good ecological status.

It added that it has been tricky to get a complete overview of the health of rivers due to “outdated, underfunded and inadequate monitoring” and until the passing of the Environment Act last year, there had been a “lack of political will” to improve water quality.

Some of the issues the group has raised includes river quality monitoring not identifying microplastics, persistent chemical pollutants or antimicrobial resistant pathogens flowing through rivers.

Other concerns the committee has include plants, invertebrates and fish being suffocated as a result of the build-up of high levels of nutrients, such as phosphorus and nitrogen, from sewage and animal waste and the extent of sewage discharge, misreporting and large spills by water companies.

In its report, it added that fats, oils and greases, and cleaning and hygiene products containing plastic, are also causing problems for drainage systems – while single-use plastic hygiene products are clogging up drains and sewage works.

Its recommendations include urging for regulatory action, water company investment and cross-catchment collaboration to restore rivers to good ecological health.

The committee said that regulator Ofwat should examine the powers it has to limit payment of bonuses to water company executives until the permit breaches cease and that the Environment Agency should consider creating an online platform where scientists can upload their data on water quality.

Environmental Audit Committee Chairman Philip Dunne said: “Rivers are the arteries of nature and must be protected. Our inquiry has uncovered multiple failures in the monitoring, governance and enforcement on water quality. For too long, the Government, regulators and the water industry have allowed a Victorian sewerage system to buckle under increasing pressure.”

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