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Sunday, November 27, 2022

British waters: Sewage spoils holiday joy

At the end of a holiday in the UK, many people literally feel like shit. When she was in the sea with her daughter, feces swam past them, Sian Young, from the southern English beach town of Littlehampton, told the i newspaper.

Many bathers felt the same way as the 47-year-old. A number of beaches between Cornwall and Essex along the English Channel have been closed due to pollution, but bathing resorts on the North Sea and Irish Sea have also been affected. Because untreated sewage flows into the sea in numerous places, but also into lakes and rivers.

mockery on the internet

It’s about billions of liters. Between 2016 and 2021, the amount has increased nearly 30-fold, according to data from the Environment Agency. As before joining the EU, Britain is well on the way to becoming the “dirty man of Europe” again after Brexit. The Internet is hailing ridicule: the rock band Queen should rename their hit “Radio Gaga” to “Radio Kaka”, among other things. In the Mirror newspaper, columnist Mark Steel etched: “Note the merits of sea effluent – soon we’ll have a brown bridge to Europe.”

The fact that so much rubbish recently flowed into the sea is due to the British system. Rainwater and sewage are routed to the sewage treatment plants in the same pipes. When it rains heavily, however, the capacity is sometimes insufficient, especially when the dried-up soil cannot absorb the water quickly, as was the case after the recent heat wave. This could lead to sewage treatment plants overflowing and flooding of houses and streets. For this reason, excess wastewater may occasionally be discharged directly into the sea and rivers – this has recently been used by a number of sewage treatment plants.

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Bathing warning

The problem: Numerous systems that are supposed to monitor the discharge of waste water do not work or are not installed as intended. Around a quarter of all sewage was discharged unmonitored last year, according to an analysis by the opposition Liberal Democrats. “This is a national scandal and these new numbers smack of a cover-up,” said the party’s environmental spokesman, Tim Farron.

The shitstorm on the British coasts could also have health consequences. The government itself warns that swimming in open water can increase the risk of gastrointestinal diseases, as well as respiratory, skin, ear and eye infections. Experts emphasized that it is even possible to be infected with hepatitis A and other diseases. Seafood can also become inedible. For example, sewage also flows into areas where shellfish are fished. In Whitstable, southeast England, the oyster harvest was stopped because norovirus symptoms appeared after eating it.

Shortly before the change in Downing Street, the government is paralyzed, the outgoing Prime Minister Boris Johnson no longer wants to make any fundamental decisions. Many critics have identified Johnson’s Conservative Party as the main culprit. In autumn 2021, the parliamentary group refused to amend the environmental law that would have required water companies to stop pumping wastewater into rivers. The favorite to succeed Johnson, Liz Truss, as Environment Secretary, once cut millions of pounds earmarked for the fight against water pollution, the Guardian newspaper reported.

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After leaving the EU

The government and sewage companies claim that adequate safeguards are in place. According to a report by the Environment Agency and regulator Ofwat, total separation of waste water and stormwater systems would cost between £350 billion and £600 billion, adding up to £1,000 a year to utilities per household.

But critics point to another reason for the contaminated beaches: Brexit. Even before the vote on leaving the EU in 2016, environmental groups had warned that the government could water down environmental regulations after Brexit. Only strict EU laws and pressure from Brussels would have led to water and air in Great Britain becoming cleaner, said Stanley Johnson, the father of the still prime minister. Now the environmental activist blames the government for the situation.

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