Daily Archives: June 1, 2009

Sea pollution explained

Sewage – why is it a problem?

Sewage is broadly a combination of domestic and industrial liquid effluent and suspended solids. It consists of organic faecal matter, bacteria, viruses, fats, chemicals, heavy metals, debris and nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorous.
Untreated sewage is primarily organic in nature and subject to bacterial decay. In low concentrations it can be beneficial to the marine ecosystem. However, discharged in massive quantities it causes ecological problems such as eutrophication (loss of oxygen from the water) and direct physical impacts to marine life such as poisoning, smothering, and the disruption of growth, respiration, reproduction, and the immune system.

Sewage – human health risks

Raw sewage is full of pathogenic bacteria and viruses. Numerous studies have shown that swimming in sewage contaminated water can lead to gastroenteritis, acute febrile respiratory illness and ear, nose and throat infections. Hepatitis A and typhoid are also possible, although the scientific evidence for these associations is less robust.
Shellfish grown in sewage contaminated waters can cause food poisoning because filter feeding animals such as mussels and oysters concentrate sewage relate pathogens and toxins in their tissues as they feed.
The water & sewerage industry

The UK population uses around 17.5 million tonnes of water per day, and disposes of 11 million tonnes of wet sewage, every day.
To do this the industry has over 380,000 km of sewers, 11,000 discharges from sewage treatment works and 27,000 intermittent discharges (storm outlets and combined sewer overflows). The water industry therefore has the single greatest impact on marine and coastal pollution and requires careful environmental regulation.
The 11 water and sewerage companies and the 13 water supply companies run the water industry. The Environment Agency in England and Wales, and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency and the Department of Environment Northern Ireland are the environmental regulators. The industry is overseen in England and Wales by the Government’s Water Services Regulatory Authority (Ofwat), in Scotland by the Water Industry Commission, and in Northern Ireland by the Utility Regulator.

Sewage – investment to clean-up the coast

The 1991 European Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive (91/271/EEC) has been the principle legislative driver for quality improvements to sewage treatment in the UK. Since privatisation in 1989, industry has invested £70bn in water and sewerage infrastructure in England and Wales – about twice the annual average capital investment of 1980s. About £10 billion of this investment has gone toward improvements to point source sewage discharge to the coast.

In September 1998, the UK Government announced a seven year improvement plan to provide secondary sewage treatment as a minimum standard at all treatment works serving communities greater than 2,000 people in England and Wales. This target has now almost been met.

Public water and sewerage services in Scotland are delivered by Scottish Water, a publicly owned company set up by the Scottish Executive in 2002. The Quality & Standards III capital investment programme will spend £2.15 billion between 2006 and 2010.

In Northern Ireland, water and sewerage services are delivered by the Northern Ireland Water Service (NIWS) but province is in dire need of investment. In December 2005, a report issued by the UK Department of the Environment’s Northern Ireland Environment and Heritage Service concluded that NIWS was responsible for 23.5% of all water pollution incidents during the previous year. NIWS has now introduced a £420 million in wastewater treatment works and sewer network upgrades to improve this situation.

Sewage – what’s the situation now?

Almost all communities over 2000 population equivalent on the UK mainland, except notably Brighton, are now served by secondary sewage treatment plants, or better.

According to data collected for MCS’ Good Beach Guide, there remain 62 outfalls continously discharging raw, primary or preliminary treated sewage. Almost half (27) of these are in Scotland.

The Environment Agency currently estimates that between 4% and 10% of UK designated bathing beaches will fail the new minimum bathing water standard. Measures to achieve full compliance will largely require reducing the impact of diffuse pollution and intermittent storm sewage discharges.

The UK Government estimates that the cost of achieving of compliance with new European bathing water standards will be £200 million per year for the next 25 years.
Intermittent sewage discharge (storm outfalls & combined sewer overflows)

The UK has a network of 22,000 combined sewer overflows (CSO) which discharge storm water mixed with raw sewage to rivers and the sea when it rains. They are intended as a failsafe mechanim for combined sewer systems (sewers which collect domestic sewage and storm water in same system) by discharging the contents of flooded sewers away from roads and houses.

The spill frequency of CSOs is based on dry weather flow for the sewer system and is not directly related to the receiving water’s capacity to assimilate the discharge. CSOs may therefore discharge in circumstances ranging from light to heavy rain fall
(and occasionally dry weather) and spill frequency can vary from very low to several hundred times per year.

Discharge consents for CSOs, issued under the Water Resources Act (1990) and regulations introduced to transpose the European Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive, generally require that a CSO is maintained in a fit operating state and that discharges do not cause an environmental nuisance to users of the receiving waters.

CSOs near sites regarded as ‘sensitive’ under the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive ie: designated bathing sites and shellfish waters, are generally limited to a spill frequency of between three times per year and once every five years, depending where the CSO is sited.

An extensive programme is underway throughout the United Kingdom to upgrade 2,200 unsatisfactory CSOs. Unfortunately, the UK CSO network has never been properly mapped, and finding unmapped CSOs is proving a significant problem in some areas. In the period 2005-10 water companies have concentrated on modifying 1500 CSOs to improve the aesthetic appearance (bottles, rags, cotton buds etc) of floodwater.
Intermittent sewage discharge – what’s the situation now?

The European Commission states that discharges of urban waste water from CSOs cause pollution, threatens the survival of fish and poses human health risks.

Increased annual rainfall and severe storm events, driven by climate change, will increase the environmental impact of CSOs unless measures are introduced to limit spill frequency and increase CSO storm water storage capacity.

Bathing water quality has declined from a high in 2006. CSOs and storm run-off from city streets and farmland are largely to blame. Almost 50% of all tested bathing sites in the UK still offer an unacceptable health risk to swimmers.

Diffuse pollution:

Diffuse pollution is a catch-all term to describe non-point source pollution to rivers and the sea. Diffuse pollution is sub-categorised into a) agricultural b) urban, c) atmospheric.

Types of diffuse pollution range from nutrients (largely nitrate and phosphate based fertilisers) and livestock waste washed off farmland to oil, petro chemicals and endocrine disrupting chemicals flushed from urban areas into storm drains, water courses and the sea. Atmospheric input is principally air borne nitrogen oxides from burnt fossil fuels which can contribute significantly to the nitrate content of the oceans.

The UK Government estimates that almost two million tonnes of nutrients are discharged into UK coastal waters each year and as discharges from point sources (pipes) have improved in quality so diffuse pollution has become relatively more problematic.

River basin characterisation studies for England and Wales conducted by the Environment Agency under implementation work for the Water Framework Directive (WFD) suggest that 25% of estuaries and 24% of coastal waters are at risk of failing the new environmental standard of Good Ecological Status because of diffuse pollution.
Diffuse pollution – what’s the situation now?

The Environment Agency for England and Wales (2007) states that over a third of estuaries and a fifth of coastal waters are at risk from diffuse pollution. The agency says that this represents a widespread and long-term threat to the ecology of these waters.

The UN Global Environment Report (2007) states that pollution from diffuse land sources, particularly agriculture and urban run-off, needs urgent action by the world’s governments.

Nitrate and phosphate discharges from point sources to rivers and the sea have reduced by 35% since 1990, but nitrate input from rivers to the sea has not fallen.

10 estuaries in England, two in Wales and one in Scotland are now recognised as eutrophic, or likely to become so, because of diffuse pollution. Eutrophic effects include toxic algal blooms, green macro algae such as Enteromorpha smothering intertidal habitats, ecological changes in littoral and sub-littoral habitats and oxygen starvation for sedentary benthic organisms.

Nitrate and phosphate concentrations around the UK coast have not changed since 1985. Nutrient concentrations are high compared to international criteria in some estuaries and coastal waters off southern England and the eastern Irish sea. There has also been a 90% increase in phytoplankton biomass since the mid 1980’s.

Offshore waters are believed not to be affected.

This article is from www.goodbeachguide.co.uk


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Travel advice: Beware beach guides

Guides to the best of Britain’s beaches do not necessarily tell the whole story, advises Sophie Butler.

For most of us, the summer wouldn’t be complete without a trip to the seaside. But how can you make sure you choose a beach that isn’t littered and contaminated by polluted water?

You might imagine that the Good Beach Guide 2009, launched by the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) earlier this month, would be the answer. But it doesn’t give the whole picture.

What it does give you is information about the seawater. It includes details of its water testing for more than 770 beaches in the UK, listing the top 370 beaches that pass the EC’s most stringent “guideline” water tests, those that pass the less demanding “mandatory” levels; it also names 78 blacklisted beaches where the water fails the minimum legal standards.

But it doesn’t tell you how clean the sand is, how well managed the beach facilities are, whether the dog ban is effective, litter is picked up, swimming and watersports are properly zoned or the lifeguards are doing a good job.

Thomas Bell, of the MCS, defends the guide. He says: “The beaches we recommend are good from the MCS’s point of view and the purpose of the guide has always been foremost about promoting and campaigning for better bathing water quality.”

The truth is that there’s no single award scheme that tells you all you might want to know about a beach. However, below are details of the schemes that will be operating around our coast this summer and what they tell us.
2009 Beach Award Schemes

MCS Recommended Beach (www.goodbeachguide.co.uk). Gives details of water quality and sewage discharges at resort and rural beaches. You can read the full list on our website at telegraph.co.uk/travel.

Blue Flag (www.blueflag.org.uk). European-wide scheme indicating large, well-managed resort beaches where water reaches the highest guideline standard.

Quality Coast Award (www.qualitycoast.org). Launched by Keep Britain Tidy to pinpoint smaller resorts with good facilities, or larger resorts where water quality passes minimum required standards but not the higher levels demanded by Blue Flag.

Seaside Award (www.keepscotlandbeautiful.org). Run by Keep Scotland Beautiful and divided into Resort and Rural categories. Beaches must be well-managed and meet the lowest water standards.

Green Coast Award (www.keepwalestidy.org). Operated by Keep Wales Tidy and highlights the country’s quiet, less-developed beaches where water quality passes the highest EC water standards.

Read the original article from the Telegraph

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Butts of Maui’s Beaches

I found this article at The Surfers Path, and whilst it’s not  directly Europe or UK news, as the author points out, this problem is worldwide.

“This mail came in from regular reader Beau Ewan. The project is on Maui, but the problem is worldwide:

“A former 5th grade student of mine, Teak McAfee, approached me about wanting to rid Maui’s beaches of cigarette butts, which are a dangerous threat to Maui’s delicate coastal habitat. Together, we’ve been building this website, and Teak wants to continue to lobby for this cause until there is a reduction of cigarette butts on our beaches. Her first course of action is to get as many signatures as possible on her online petition. If you support her cause, please sign the petition and spread the word.”

Here’s Teak’s mission statement: “Maui’s coastline and marine life continue to face alarming destruction from the careless littering of cigarette butts on our prized beaches; especially since the 2006 statewide indoor smoking ban brought smokers out of the restaurants and onto our once pristine beaches. Please help us in saving our exclusive beaches and precious marine creatures that continue to suffer from this growing problem.”

Here’s a link to Teak’s BOMB website: http://www.buttsoffmauisbeaches.com. To sign her petition, go here: http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/buttsoffmauisbeaches/index.html

Some facts about cigarette butts and beaches:

• Cigarette butts are the most littered item in the world.

• Over two billion cigarette butts get tossed everyday. That’s an average of two cigarette butts daily from each of earth’s 1.2 billion smokers.

• At beach cleanups, cigarette butts are the most common form of trash found (typically accounting for one in every five items collected).

• The cigarette filter was designed to trap the toxic chemicals in the cigarette smoke from entering the smoker’s body. When submerged in water, the toxic chemicals trapped in the filter leak out into aquatic ecosystems, threatening the quality of the water and many forms of aquatic life.

• Cigarette butts may seem small, but with an estimated 4.5 trillion butts (worldwide) littered every year, the toxic chemicals add up!

• Over 99% of cigarettes are now smoked outside.

• 18% of all litter dropped to the ground is washed into streams, rivers, lakes and the ocean by storm water runoff. Cigarette butts, are little and lightweight and are the first to get carried away into our waterways.

• Studies indicate that since we have enacted indoor smoking bans, more cigarette butts are being tossed directly into the environment. Unfortunately, this means that ecosystems have a higher chance of being affected by cigarette butts. Biologists have found butts in the stomachs of young birds, sea turtles and other marine creatures.


Benzo[a]pyrene: found in coal tar and cigarette smoke and it is one of the most potent cancer causing chemical in the world.

Arsenic: Deadly poison that causes diarrhea, cramps, anemia, paralysis and malignant skin tumors. It is used in pesticides.

Acetone: It’s one of the active ingredients in nail polish remover.

Lead: Lead poisoning stunts growth, causes vomiting, and causes brain damage.

Formaldehyde: causes cancer, can damage lungs, skin, and digestive systems. Embalmers use it to preserve dead bodies.

Toluene: highly toxic, commonly use as an ingredient in paint thinner.

Butane: highly flammable butane is one of the key components in gasoline.

Cadmium: cause damage to the liver, kidneys and brain, and stays in the body for years.

Ammonia: causes individuals to absorb more nicotine, keeping them hooked on smoking.

Benzene: found in pesticides and gasoline inadvertently”

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