What is a combined sewer overflow?
The combined sewer overflow (AKA: CSO, sewer overflow) is a dirty back door, abused far too frequently by our failing sewerage system. Pumps fail, fats, oils and grease restrict flow and rainwater overpowers the sewers. Overflows then discharge raw human sewage and other pollutants into rivers and the sea. There are a shocking 31,000 sewer overflows around the UK.
Where is my local CSO?
Most beaches will have a CSO in the vicinity. Water companies hide overflows up rivers and stream. They can even be hidden in plain sight behind a curtain of concrete. The Environment Agency bathing water profiles often map CSOs in the immediate vicinity of designated bathing waters.
Try Googling “[your local beach name] EA bathing water profile” or follow this link to find out more about the issues affecting your beach.
Why do we have CSOs?
The vast majority of the UK’s sewer network is a combined sewage and storm (rain) water system. Meaning sewage and rainwater flow in the same pipes. Even without adding rainwater, much of our sewer network is operating close to capacity.
When pumps fail, when rainwater enters the sewers or when sewers are restricted by sanitary waste and/or fats, oils and grease these sewers burst and could back up into peoples homes and businesses. To avoid this devastating scenario, water companies have built CSOs to funnel raw human sewage and other pollutants into rivers and the sea.
Nobody wants raw sewage polluting homes and businesses, but the solutions are appropriate maintenance of sewers and in some cases increased capacity.
Water companies shouldn’t be allowed to use the environment as a dumpsite simply because it’s cheaper than maintaining their assets properly and make the necessary investments to protect people’s health and the environment.
Join us in calling for an end to sewage pollution at our beaches…
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Sewage Free Seas Policy:
Surfers Against Sewage is calling for a maximum of 3 sewer overflow discharges per bathing season, with discharges restricted to emergency conditions and/or extreme weather events only.
The provision of free, real-time information to the public must also be made a mandatory requirement in response to pollution events.
In the event of the bathing water having more than 1 sewer overflow asset with the potential to impact the surrounding area, and/or recreational water users the bathing water should only be allowed to be impacted a maximum of 3 times during the bathing season, restricted to extreme weather events only.
In the event of these conditions being breached SAS would call for significant financial punishments enforced on the guilty water company.
When does my sewer overflow discharge?
To answer this question SAS have developed the Safer Seas Service, a free service that informs water users in real-time when their beach is impacted by raw sewage and/or diffuse pollution. During the 2015 bathing season SAS warned users of 3,047 pollution events. Download the Safer Seas Service for free and know before you go.
What are the health risks from sewage polluted waters?
The World Health Organisation recommends avoiding the sea for 24-48 hours after a sewer overflow discharges.
Raw sewage contains disease-causing bacteria and viruses (pathogens) that have previously grown inside another person. Meaning they are accustomed to the human body and how to make it a home. The best scenarios are; ear, eye, throat, chest and/or skin infections. These are undoubtedly uncomfortable, but will probably clear up with medication and a few days rest. However, the health risks can get progressively more serious with cases of hepatitis, E. coli infection, meningitis and other serious illnesses all being reported to SAS by UK water users in recent years.
Surfers Against Sewage supporter Dr Dave Baglow has written a good article on the most common health risks from using sewage polluted waters:
During 2015 SAS worked with the European Centre for the Environment and Human Health, part of the University of Exeter medical School, on two health studies. The first study investigated people’s health experiences after going in the sea, and a preliminary review of the data shows a higher proportion of water users reporting gastrointestinal, ear, eye and skin complaints compared to people who haven’t been in the sea recently. This is supported with the SAS medical database. The study will be written up by University of Exeter scientists and submitted to medical journals during 2016.
The second study investigated the potential for elevated levels of antibiotic resistant bacteria in surfers compared with the background population. The hypothesis being sewer overflows and diffuse pollution could be responsible for feeding antibiotics and antibiotic resistant bacteria into the environment, leading to a greater chance of exposure to resistant bacteria among surfers, who swallow lots of sea water. The study is due for completion in 2016 but initial analysis of the samples shows a higher proportion of surfers are colonised by bacteria harbouring clinically important mobile resistance genes compared to people who don’t surf (for non-scientists out there, this is not good news!).
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