Advertisement
Environment

England’s polluted rivers are breeding drug-resistant diseases

A “chemical cocktail” of sewage, plastics and waste in rivers is creating a serious threat to human, animal and plant life, a new report has warned.

“Disturbing” evidence suggests that England’s polluted rivers are becoming “breeding grounds” for drug-resistant bacteria, according to a new report published today

The study by the parliamentary Environmental Audit Committee warns a “chemical cocktail” of sewage, agricultural waste and plastic is “choking” England’s rivers and creating serious risks to animal, human and plant life. 

MPs further warned that these pollutants are not being adequately monitored, meaning authorities don’t know exactly how much plastic, sewage, narcotics and other waste is in rivers. The report has called for “a UK-wide survey of emerging pollutants and microplastic pollution” to tackle the problem. 

Subscribe to The Big Issue

Support us

Take a print or digital subscription to The Big Issue and provide a critical lifeline to our work.

As well as presenting a serious threat to vital ecosystems, the report outlined the impact of river pollution on human health, with “sewage treatment works and the rivers they discharge into becoming breeding grounds for antimicrobial resistance”.

A survey presented to the committee showed 11 of 97 waters sampled contained E. coli resistant to antibiotics, suggesting a serious risk that sewage pollution could lead to drug-resistant illnesses in humans.

The report follows months of public outrage over sewage pollution in rivers after it emerged water companies were dumping vast amounts of raw sewage, sometimes illegally, into rivers. 

Advertisement
Advertisement

Thanks to sewage spills, along with plastic and agricultural pollution, just 14 per cent of England’s rivers are deemed to be in “good” ecological condition. None are free of chemical pollutants. 

The main sources of pollution outlined in the report are sewage spills from water companies’ storm overflows, agricultural pollution and plastics from car tyres and roads. 

In spite of a large body of evidence suggesting severe levels of pollution in England’s waterways, the committee report says there is currently no comprehensive data available to monitor the overall health of rivers. 

Such monitoring has been hampered by “monitoring arrangements variously characterised as outdated, underfunded and inadequate”, the report reads. 

Current monitoring arrangements are particularly lacking in that the range of pollutants being measured is “too narrow”, say MPs, with “emerging pollutants” like microplastics, and a range of chemicals, such as pharmaceuticals and narcotics not being systematically monitored. 

Break the cycle of poverty for good
Big Futures is calling on the Government to put in place a plan and policies to break this cycle of poverty for good. We are calling for long-term solutions to meet the biggest issues faced in the UK today – the housing crisis, low wages and the climate crisis. Dealing with these issues will help the UK to protect the environmental, social, economic and cultural wellbeing of future generations. So that young people and future generations have a fair shot at life. Join us and demand a better future.

This means there is currently no comprehensive data indicating how much of each pollutant is present in English rivers, though early studies have been damning, with data collected from the River Irwell showing there was more plastic per square metre in the river than insects. 

Environmental Audit Committee chair Philip Dunne said the committee is now calling on the government to build “a [river] 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,” he said.

Article continues below

Hugo Tagholm, chief executive of campaign group Surfers Against Sewage, called the report “yet another damning indictment on water companies, further exposing the pollution and polluters destroying our precious blue spaces and the chronic failure of government and regulators to protect these fragile ecosystems”. 

“The ongoing sewage scandal has made clear that the public will not accept this environmental vandalism any longer, and so we urge the Government to accept these recommendations in full and to set targets to achieve an end to sewage pollution,” he added.

The Environment Agency has been contacted for comment. 

Advertisement

Every copy counts this Christmas

Your local vendor is at the sharp end of the cost-of-living crisis this Christmas. Prices of energy and food are rising rapidly. As is the cost of rent. All at their highest rate in 40 years. Vendors are amongst the most vulnerable people affected. Support our vendors to earn as much as they can and give them a fighting chance this Christmas.

Recommended for you

Read All
'No evidence' low-traffic neighbourhoods increase pollution in nearby roads, study finds
Environment

'No evidence' low-traffic neighbourhoods increase pollution in nearby roads, study finds

Thousands march to demand climate justice in London and around the world
Climate justice

Thousands march to demand climate justice in London and around the world

To stop climate change, it's time to take Indigenous knowledge seriously
Environment

To stop climate change, it's time to take Indigenous knowledge seriously

The solution to climate change and zero carbon living starts at home
Sponsored content

The solution to climate change and zero carbon living starts at home

Most Popular

Read All
Pattie Boyd: 'I was with The Beatles and everything was fabulous'
1.

Pattie Boyd: 'I was with The Beatles and everything was fabulous'

What does Jeremy Hunt's Autumn Statement mean for me?
2.

What does Jeremy Hunt's Autumn Statement mean for me?

Why do people hate Matt Hancock? Oh, let us count the ways
3.

Why do people hate Matt Hancock? Oh, let us count the ways

What to do if you have damp and mould in your home
4.

What to do if you have damp and mould in your home