One of the biggest pollution problems along the UK coastline is still sewage. Despite SAS’s huge success at virtually eliminating all continuous sewage outfalls around the UK there are some notable ‘brown spots’ across the country where raw sewage is still discharged on a daily basis, including Brighton, Guernsey, the Thames and across Northern Ireland. The major nationwide threat nowadays however is combined sewer overflows (CSO’s) and their misuse by water companies.
According to the water industry itself, there are approximately 31,000 CSO’s around the UK, many of which are completely unregulated. The CSO is a kind of emergency outlet for the sewerage system, discharging raw sewage and wastewater into rivers and the sea when the system is overloaded. However, it appears that many CSO’s are being used too frequently as a means of regular sewage disposal, not just in the extreme weather conditions they are designed for.
SAS has recently pioneered a new system to monitor these spills at over 200 popular surfing locations and bathing waters; the Sewage Alert Service. In 2012, as part of the Sewage Alert Service, SAS issued over 30,000 text messages in just ten weeks, warning water users about the 416 raw sewage discharges across just 62 beaches.
Scientific studies have consistently highlighted that those using oceans, lakes or rivers for recreational sports such as surfing are most at risk of falling sick from an illness associated with sewage polluted water. In some cases this risk is up to 3 times greater than your typical bather because sports like surfing involve more immersion in and ingestion of water.
The most common complaints amongst surfers and other recreational water users, although painful, are relatively harmless; ear, nose and throat infections, eye and wound infections and gastro-intestinal complaints such as diarrhoea and vomiting. Unfortunately there are other more serious illnesses that can be contracted from sewage contaminated water; bacillary dysentery, pneumonia, botulism, hepatitis A, meningitis and septicaemia. These are just a few but they are all capable of keeping you out of the water for weeks or months at a time.
Unfortunately, throughout the UK great surf is often accompanied by rain generated by low-pressure systems passing over the country. So the Sewage Alert Service provides a vital public health protecting service along with helping SAS identify where sewage pollution is most impacting the coastline and investment is required.
The Sewage Alert Service is protecting surfers and the general public, enabling water users to make informed decisions about how, when and where they use the sea. Some of the great surf spots covered in this year’s service include Fistral, Crantock, Perranporth, St Agnes, Bude, Challaborough, Woolacombe, Bournemouth, Staithes, Saltburn, Tynemouth, Langland, Tenby and Newgale.
The way water companies plan their investment programmes also requires major attention. Much of the current investment has disregarded the impacts of climate change, in particular changing weather patterns that will result in increased flows of waste water into sewage works and raw sewage discharges via CSO’s because of a lack of treatment capacity. As a result, more pollution incidents are expected.