Microbial water quality All-Party Parliamentary Group meeting at Westminster

A guest post Will Gaze’s student Anne Leonard:

Last Monday, 23rd May 2016, I was invited to attend an All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) at the Houses of Parliament in Westminster, London. The purpose of this meeting was to discuss the Environment Agency ‘Spill Frequency Trigger Permitting’ consultation, which questions the need to implement a limit on the number of times water companies are allowed to discharge untreated sewage into sensitive waters, such as bathing beaches and shellfish waters.

The majority of the UK’s sewers are combined, collecting sewage and grey water from people’s homes and industry as well as storm water from roads and roofs. During periods of wet weather, large volumes of wastewater enter these combined sewers and exceed their capacity. Combined sewer overflows (CSOs) – are used to release this mixture of untreated sewage and storm water directly into the environment, so that raw sewage does not back up into homes and streets. Raw sewage contains numerous disease-causing microorganisms (bacteria, viruses, protozoans, etc.), which can make people ill when they come into contact with them.

In accordance with the European Bathing Water Directive and the Water Framework Directive, bathing and shellfish waters are regularly tested for the presence of sewage during the bathing season (mid-May to the end of September). However, evidence suggests that the sampling regime used only detects 11% of CSO spills, and bathers may still be exposed to bathing waters contaminated by raw sewage.

Member of Parliament, Steve Double, chaired the meeting, which was attended by MPs, representatives from NGOs like Surfers Against Sewage and the Marine Conservation Society, water companies, the Environment Agency, the shellfish industry, and the watersports sector. Speaking to this room of experts, I presented the results of three studies that I have been working on with Dr Will Gaze and Dr Ruth Garside on the threat that bacteria in coastal waters pose to human health:

  1. Participants needed for new health survey (https://vimeo.com/97107227 )
  2. Are we exposed to antibiotic resistance in coastal waters? (https://vimeo.com/122534069)
  3. Beach bum survey (http://www.ecehh.org/news/beach-bums/)

Since the meeting last week, MPs have confirmed that they will be writing to the Environment Agency, urging them to enforce tighter legal thresholds on CSOs from systems that have already been designed or recently updated to reduce the frequency of spills to just 3 per bathing season.large group westminster

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