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Sewage, slurry and plastic is polluting England’s rivers

A ‘chemical cocktail’ of sewage, slurry, and plastic is polluting England’s rivers and putting the public at risk, warns the Environmental Audit Committee in a new report.

According to the report, only 14% of English rivers meet ‘good’ ecological status and not a single river in England has received a clean bill of health for chemical contamination. 

The committee states that this poor water quality is a result of ‘chronic underinvestment and multiple failures in monitoring, governance, and enforcement.’ 

The Committee heard that until the passing of the Environment Act last year, there had been a lack of political will to improve water quality, with successive governments, water companies, and regulators seemingly turning a blind eye to antiquated practices of dumping sewage ad other pollutants in rivers. 

white and blue boat on river during daytime

The report recommends that the Environment Agency works with water companies to ensure that easily accessible information on sewage discharges, in as near to real-time as possible, is made publically available. 

The MPs are also calling on the Government actively to encourage the designation of at least one widely used stretch of river for bathing in each water company area by 2025.

Environmental Audit Committee Chairman, Rt Hon Philip Dunne MP, said: ‘Rivers are the arteries of nature and must be protected. Our inquiry has uncovered multiple failures in the monitoring, governance, and enforcement on water quality. For too long, the Government, regulators and the water industry have allowed a Victorian sewerage system to buckle under increasing pressure.

‘Today, we are calling for these relevant bodies to come together and develop a system fit for the future. Monitoring regimes need to be reviewed, enforcement needs to be ramped up, and even public awareness needs boosting on what can and cannot be poured down drains or flushed down the toilet. So many emerging pollutants are being missed by inadequate and insufficient monitoring, and court actions against polluters have fallen dramatically.

‘To deliver real change and improve the state of our rivers, a wide range of stakeholders must come together including the Government, regulators and water companies. The Environment Act signalled the first welcome sign of political will to tackle this issue. I hope this marks the start of Government regulatory and polluter action to improve the state of our rivers for all to enjoy.’

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