Water companies have been releasing sewage on to beaches and in rivers even when it is not raining, according to a report from Surfers Against Sewage.

The environmental group said that: For the first time, we’ve used rainfall data to investigate potentially illegal ‘dry spills’. Sewage outflows are only permitted in ‘unusually heavy rainfall’, but our analysis shows water companies have been dumping untreated sewage into our waterways even when there hasn’t been any rain.



Numerous news outlets have reported the launch of the new report, including the Guardian and Bloomberg. (photo: Emily Whitfield-Wicks/PA Wire)

Met Office data

Analysing meteorological data from the Met Office as well as spillage data, SAS found that 146 dry spills were detected over a 12-month period, with 95 of these at locations where water quality is classified as “excellent”.

Amy Slack, head of campaigns and policy at SAS, said: “Over the last year, the UK public has made clear their disgust at what’s happening to our rivers and seas, and yet water companies continue to pollute at will. It’s especially alarming to uncover evidence of potentially illegal activity by water companies in the form of dry spills, which are not permitted under current regulations. Shareholders and CEOs are unashamedly profiteering off pollution.”

Over a third of sickness cases correlated to sewage discharge alerts

As part of its water quality report, SAS has also analysed data from 720 sickness reports submitted to its reporting system. The data found that over a third (39%) of sickness cases correlated to sewage discharge alerts, while 63% of cases that were reported to a doctor were attributed to poor water quality.

The most common illness reported after people swam in the sea or rivers was gastroenteritis, with two in three people reporting symptoms associated with the condition. Ear, nose and throat infections were common too, with respiratory, skin and urinary tract infections also reported.

Over half of the sickness reports related to swims at locations classified as “excellent” under the government’s testing regime.

The full report from Surfers Against Sewage can be found here.

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