Environmental Hazards, Green

Nearly Half of UK Beaches Unsafe

A sign warns of sewage contaminated water. Image: blog.epicedits.com
A sign warns of sewage contaminated water.
Image: Brian Auer / Flickr CC

A new survey from the European Environment Agency has concluded that only 58% of beaches in the United Kingdom were determined safe for swimming, down from over 80% the previous year.  Analysts say that the most likely cause of the severe drop in water quality is this year had seen a lot of wet weather, causing stress on the sewage system leading to spillage.

Many drainage systems are designed to run off into streams and oceans when floods and heavy rains become too much for the system to handle. The survey includes both fresh and salt water beaches that could be used for swimming. The United Kingdom was among the worst performers in water quality, having just slightly better tests than the Netherlands and somewhat better than Belgium.  The country’s level of 6% poor water quality is three times the average for Europe.

Sewage systems are raising questions worldwide about whether or not infrastructure will be able to handle the rise in erratic weather due to climate change.  After Sandy, over 10 billion gallons of raw or partially treated sewage leaked into the waterways.

Disasters there and in other places around the world show that facilities are not built to withstand extreme storms.  Runoff can put holds on the fishing industry, contaminate drinking water, and make swimming water unsafe to bathe in.

The National Resource Defense Council estimates problems from sewage systems will only get worse.  Some pipes in the United States are 200 years old, and spills are already costing the government hundreds of millions of dollars. Meanwhile officials in the United Kingdom say they will work diligently to get beaches back to previous levels of excellence.

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