Sewage and sickness


A Water Quality campaign

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Sewage and sickness

Sewage & Surfers - Not the best mix. Surfer & SAS member Dr Dave Baglow explains the risks of mixing with sewage.

As a water user, whatever your craft, you’re used to taking a risk. Whether it’s the risk of drowning, hypothermia, sun-burn (maybe not!) or injuring yourself on rocks, we take calculated risks every time we enter the water with regards to our health. We modify our behaviour accordingly to these risks and you could perhaps argue that overcoming these risks provides part of our enjoyment. We decide whether to enter the water in the first place, where we enter it and at what specific time. Becoming experienced in the water is surely the same as becoming experienced in evaluating and dealing with personal risk.

What then of unknown risks? It’s common sense that our health can be affected by sewage-polluted water, but to what extent? Bathing waters contaminated by sewage can harm us and cause illnesses that range from the annoying to life threatening. Did you know that if you regularly surf in polluted seawater that you¹re advised to discuss Hep A vaccinations with your GP? Do we as a group know what all the health risks are? There is a growing amount of evidence on the illnesses that we are at risk of getting from sewage. Worryingly though, as a group we are blissfully unaware of this evidence and how these illnesses may present themselves. More importantly perhaps, as a group we¹re unaware of what we can do about these risks to minimise the potential impact on our health.

Information is king.  We can educate ourselves as a group and seek early medical treatment if necessary. Crucially SAS are also provide the means for us to get accurate and up to date notifications on where the sewage is being dumped in our water, in real time. Ingeniously they are going to deliver this information right onto our smartphones to help us plan our surf. Two vitally important steps in helping us modify our risk from the dangerous pathogens found in sewage water.

Surfers Against Sewage is also working with the European Centre for the Environment and Human Health on a new study to better understand the illnesses UK water users are suffering from after using the sea. The study complied the detailed health results from more than 2,000 water users and will be published in 2016.

In the public health and safety sector, we the taxpayers, spend unimaginable sums of money to reduce the public risk of ill health. If as a group we were able to collate a body of evidence that can clearly show the risk we are exposed to, and its effect on our quality of life, water companies would be forced to change their policies. As it stands they are aware of the risk, but hide behind the apparent lack of evidence when confronted to make changes.

I can’t expose my patients at work to the risk of an extremely low dose of radiation by requesting an X-ray unless I give a good reason. If I don’t provide a good reason it’s considered assault. And rightly so. For me then to leave work and paddle out at a beach where a public serving company is knowingly pumping sewage that has the capacity to cause me serious harm, baffles me.

Get involved

How can you help with this campaign…

  • Each time you think you have become unwell due to exposure to polluted water you are encouraged to complete the Surfers Against Sewage Medical Response Form (perhaps better described as the 'I feel poo' form?!).­ We all feel dragged down by filling in forms, but this one actually has a hugely positive outcome. Fill it in while you're off sick! Learn more…
  • Lobby the Secretary of State for the Environment for more action to prevent sewage pollution at UK beaches. Learn more…

Campaign timeline

Key campaign dates