Unless sewage effluent is fully treated either using ultra-violet disinfection or micro-filtration it will contain high levels of human-derived bacteria and viruses. It is scientifically acknowledged that pathogens present in water can cause infection in water users. Micro-organisms can enter through the oral route (ingestion), through the eyes, ears and nose or through an open wound. Alarmingly, with certain pathogens it takes only one viral particle to cause an infection. Infections can even be contracted from the aerosol spray blown from the water’s surface as micro-organisms are contained within the minute water droplets that are unsuspectingly inhaled. Pathogens don’t all die off quickly in the marine environment either, indeed some pathogens can survive for long periods of time, such as, hepatitis A, which can survive for up to 100 days in saltwater!
Reducing sewage treatment can have serious impacts on the health of all recreational water users including surfers, waveriders and swimmers.Many surf spots around the UK have their best surf window outside the traditional bathing season which runs from May September. Ever improving wetsuit technology also means surfers can enjoy their sport for hours at a time, even in the depths of winter. This is also true for all water sports, not just surfing. Kite surfers, windsurfers, sailors, kayakers and other recreational water users all enjoy fantastic conditions outside the bathing season, across the UK. Water users need year round protection from the health risks of using water polluted by untreated sewage effluent, and this is achieved with year-round tertiary treatment of effluent.
In 2008, SAS fought a successful campaign against turning off UV sewage treatment at popular beaches in North East. The Environment Agency determined that before any water company reduces their levels of sewage treatment by turning off the UV treatment it must first prove the absence of water users and that it doesn’t reduce on water quality. SAS believe this sets a strong precedent and one that should be followed throughout England, Scotland and Wales.
SAS has a number of ongoing campaigns calling maintained year-round tertiary treatment of sewage effluent including at Pease Bay in Scotland, and Mablethorpe and Cleethorpes on the East coast.