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Britain’s beaches fail European hygiene standards

Britain’s beaches fail European hygiene standards
An increasing number of popular swimming spots in the UK have failed to meet European hygiene standards including parts of Lake Windemere, the chic Cornish resort of Rock in Cornwall and Sandgate in Kent.

By Louise Gray, Environment Correspondent
Published: 6:03PM BST 12 Jun 2009
Britain’s beaches fail European hygiene standards
Rock beach in Cornwall which has failed European hygiene standards Photo: MARTIN POPE

The vast majority of the nation’s favourite coastal areas and inland lakes or rivers meet strict EU bathing water cleanliness standards.

However the heavy rains last summer means that more sewage, litter and chemical run-off from farms was found in the 608 swimming spots assessed last year. Some 24 coastal areas and Millerground Landings in Lake Windermere failed to meet the minimum standard, which means they may not be safe to swim in at certain times of year or in particular areas. This is a rise from the 20 beaches that failed the test in 2007.

The EU does not consider the bathing areas dirty enough to close them down but leaves it up to the local authority or Environment Agency to test the water and advise the public if it is safe to swim.

Most of the UK bathing areas needing improvement were in the South West – Devon and Cornwall – and in Scotland including Portobello in Edinburgh and beaches around Plymouth.

Earlier in the year the Marine Conservation Society recommended just 370 out of 775 of the UK’s most popular bathing beaches in its annual Good Beach Guide, a fall of 17 per cent on last year and the lowest number since 2002.

Keep Britain Tidy have also reported the number of beaches awarded a Blue Flag for overall cleanliness this year fell by 11 to 71 – although that is still an improvement from 2002 when just 45 made the grade.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said it is tackling the problem of pollution from sewers by tightening standards to stop leaks. The problem of run off from farms is being dealt with by awarding grants to build fences between livestock and watercourses and controlling use of chemicals.

“We’re working to improve sewerage systems and are aware of the effect heavy rain and flooding can have on our coastal bathing waters” said a spokesman.

The EU carried out tests at more than 21,000 bathing spots around 27 countries last year. The vast majority in favourite holiday spots like Cyprus, France and Spain met EU hygiene requirements with 96 per cent of the total coastal bathing areas and 92 per cent of bathing sites in rivers and lakes up to standard.

UK beaches and inland swimming spots failing to meet minimum EU clean water standards in 2008 were:

Northern Ireland:



Machrihanish (Argyll and Bute),

Saltcoats/Ardrossan (North Ayrshire)

Sandyhills (Dumfries and Galloway)

Portobello Central (Edinburgh)

Rosehearty (Aberdeenshire),

Cruden Bay (Aberdeenshire)




South West:

Seaton (Cornwall)

East Looe (Cornwall)

Rock (Cornwall)

Readymoney (Cornwall)

Porthluney (Cornwall)

Plymouth Hoe East (Devon)

Plymouth Hoe West (Devon)

Exmouth (Devon)

Instow (Devon)

Coombe Martin (Devon)


Allonby (Cumbria)

St Bees (Cumbria)

Aldingham (Cumbria)

Windermere, Millerground landings (Cumbria)

Yorkshire and Humberside:

Staithes (North Yorkshire)

South East:

Sandgate (Kent).

Read the original article from the Telegraph.co.uk here



Filed under litter, Sea Pollution, Water Quality

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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‘Freak rainfall’ to blame for pollution at Lothian beaches

NOT many people would be brave enough to take a dip at a Lothian beach and, according to a new survey, that might be just as well.

The Marine Conservation Society’s (MCS) Good Beach Guide 2009, published today, has failed the beach at Portobello for its polluted water.

Fisherrow West in Musselburgh, North Berwick (Milsey Bay) and Dunbar (Belhaven) were also given black marksfor pollution caused by overflowing sewage systems.
The guide suggests Lothian swimmers should instead head to Seacliff, Thorntonloch and Yellowcraigs (Broad Sands Bay) in East Lothian, which achieved the highest possible standard.

Experts have blamed the disappointing results on “once in a lifetime” rainfall which fell when the water tests were being carried out in 2008.

The guide was compiled using water quality data gathered by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) between June and September last year.

Each of the failed beaches suffered from overflowing sewage systems caused by heavy rainfall in July and August 2008, and the MCS grading does not always take heavy rainfall into account.

Portobello was blighted by sewage released when the Joppa sewage pumping station overflowed. Sepa’s report said: “The rainfall during this period was greater than two and a half times the rainfall for the whole month, and was of a level which would be experienced once in a lifetime.

“This excessive rainfall resulted in the capacity of the pumps at Joppa sewage pumping station being exceeded for a greater period than normal, which resulted in more frequent operation of the sewer overflow.

“Scottish Water has taken additional steps to improve the robustness of this system.”

MCS’s Calum Duncan said: “Because of sewer overflows and run-off from farms, heavy rainfall can lead to even the best beaches becoming infected with sewage-related bacteria.”

Would you go swimming at a Lothian beach?

Darran Quigley, 31, driver technician, Forrester Park Avenue: “I don’t think I would because of the sewage works. I would maybe go swimming at a beach up north but not in the Lothians.”

Katherine Hegarty, 31, interior designer, Forrester Park Avenue: “No. Knowing the sewage systems can overflow when it rains puts you off.”

Read the original article from The Evening News, The Edinburgh Paper here

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Surfers urge for action against beach and water pollution

Campaign group visits East Lothian town to explain need for year-round protection for surfers, bathers and wildlife.

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Environmental campaigners have arrived in East Lothian to launch a major initiative aimed at cleaning up the Scottish coastline.

The Surfers Against Sewage campaign group are calling on water companies and local councils to do more to protect beaches and say the public has its part to play as well.

The group have also called on Prime Minister Gordon Brown to support the campaign. They said the UK Government needs a strategy to tackle the increasing issue of litter.

Surfers urge for action against beach and water pollution

As part of the campaign group’s awareness-raising effort, members took to the surf off Dunbar on Monday to highlight the need to protect the beaches from pollution.

Andy Cummings, one of the campaigners, said: “As surfers we’re immersing and ingesting; that’s where the fun is. We’re wiping out, it’s a great laugh.

“Unfortunately, we can come into contact with these bacteria and viruses that get shoved up our noses, in our ears, so we need Scottish Water to treat the sewage all year round to a tertiary level.”

East Lothian boasts some of the most stunning stretches of coastline in the country, attracting thousands of visitors and sports enthusiasts every year. This makes the campaign message even more critical.

Hugo Tagholm, another campaigner who visited the East Lothian town, said: “More and more people are actually coming to the beaches with wet-suit technology with the amount of people who are passionate about surfing, riding waves – more are coming to use the water.

“People are exposed to these things throughout the year now so it’s a false economy that we’re actually just focusing on the summer to keep these areas clean. Actually all year round these areas need protection.”

Sam Christopherson runs a local surf school and is keenly involved in keeping the coastline clean. But even he remembers a time when it was a different story.

Mr Christopherson, from Coast to Coast Surf School in the Dunbar area, said: “There were issues where you could go into polluted water in certain wind directions, where you would come out and your face would be really itchy and feel really hot because of the pollution.

“Nowadays, we actually are surfing with dolphins and porpoises and things like that.”

Scottish Water said it has invested heavily in its treatment works around East Lothian and the quality of its bathing waters has risen sharply as a result.

Much has been done to improve the quality of the water and cleanliness of the beaches in the last decade.

Campaigners say they want to keep it that way.

Read original article from STV news here

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