The government has admitted there is a growing problem of sewage in British rivers, and is hoping to tackle this issue to make UK waterways safer for the public.

Earlier this week, chief medical officer for England Chris Whitty, Ofwat chair Jonson Cox, and Environment Agency chair Emma Howard Boyd issued a statement about the potential health risk of sewage in rivers.

They noted that raw sewage from storm overflows, together with waste from sewage treatment works, are seeping into rivers where children play and adults swim.

“This is a serious public health issue for government and regulators and it is clear that the water companies are not doing enough,” they said in a joint statement.

The experts noted that more people began open-water swimming and water-sports during lockdown and these hobbies should be encouraged.

“Our rivers, seas and waterways should therefore be free from sewage to reduce risk to the public,” Professor Whitty, Mr Cox and Ms Howard Boyd commented.

To tackle the problem, better operational management and investment of storm overflows is needed to ensure their use is exceptionally rare, instead of standard.

They also said sewage works need to stop releasing coliforms upstream of popular recreational areas, as these contain bacteria and viruses.

Treatment works will need to pursue “preventative engineering, better sewage management, innovation and commitment”, the Department of Health and Social Care urged.

According to Surfers Against Sewers, ingesting sewage can lead to a number of health complaints, including gastroenteritis, skin, eye, chest or ear infections, sore throats, and hepatitis.


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