Charity warning over raw sewage discharge levels

Discharge from an overflow at Godrevy in Cornwall
Image caption Sewage discharges from an overflow on to the beach at Godrevy in Cornwall

Thousands more pipes could discharge raw sewage into the sea, rivers and lakes than was previously thought, the Marine Conservation Society has said.

The conservation charity said the usually published figure of 22,000 discharge pipes in England and Wales should actually be about 31,000.

That is because other categories of pipes have the same function, it said.

The Environment Agency said over £8bn has been invested to upgrade the sewage system over the past 20 years.

The MCS also called for overflow pipes to be mapped and managed more closely.

The charity said that overflow pipes which prevent sewage backing up into drains and houses in times of heavy rain are necessary in an emergency. But water companies needed to invest in the sewer network to ensure untreated waste water was only released in urgent cases.

The MCS also called for overflow pipes to be mapped and managed more closely.

Referring to the 22,000 discharge pipes, the charity said the figure only referred to pipes known as combined sewer overflows and emergency overflows.

'Public information'

The organisation said it had discovered that four other categories of outflows - for example at pumping stations or waterworks - perform the same function, bringing the total figure to an estimated 31,000.

MCS pollution programme manager Dr Robert Keirle said the society "accepts that combined sewer overflows and emergency overflows are an essential part of a well-managed and maintained sewerage network, if sited, used and monitored appropriately.

"However, MCS insists that they should not be used for routine discharge of excess sewage, as an alternative to increasing the capacity of sewers to cope with a growing population."

Dr Keirle also said more needed to be done to map and monitor the outflows, so the public had more information about where they are, if they are monitored and when and for how long sewage is flowing into the sea.

"Mapping costs relatively little yet it could make the difference between an enjoyable trip to the beach or one that ends up in A&E with ear, nose and throat infections or stomach upsets," he added.

Research from the society also suggested there are outlets around the UK coastline which are discharging sewage more than the permitted 10 times a year, including one in Kent which let out waste for more than 1,000 hours during the bathing season in 2010.

A spokesman for the Environment Agency said in addition to the £8bn spent by water companies to upgrade sewer systems and reduce water pollution over the past 20 years, over 98% of beaches had met standards for bathing water quality this year.

He said that the agency had also helped to secure a further £4bn investment by water companies in environmental improvements by 2015.

He added: "The Environment Agency publishes detailed online profiles of every designated bathing water in England and Wales.

"The location of all types of outfall is included in these profiles, along with information on the work being done to improve bathing water quality."

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