‘Chemical cocktail’ of pollution in rivers putting public and wildlife at risk


A report suggests both public health and nature are being put at risk by polluted rivers (Picture: Getty)
A report suggests both public health and nature are being put at risk by polluted rivers (Picture: Getty)

Wildlife in England’s rivers is being strangled by a ‘chemical cocktail’ of sewage, waste and plastic, a group of cross-party MPs has warned.

The damning findings were published today in a new report by the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) – amid fears both public health and nature are being put at risk.

Only 14% of rivers in England are deemed to have good ecological status, as ministers were criticised for a ‘lack of political will’ to improve water quality.

Plants, invertebrates and fish are being suffocated due to a build-up of pollutants from sewage and animal waste, the report said.

And sewage discharge, misreporting and large spills by water companies have also been blamed for worsening the problem – as MPs urge regulator Ofwat to limit bonuses received by executives.  

The EAC said it has been difficult to get a complete assessment of the health of rivers, blaming ‘outdated, underfunded and inadequate monitoring’.

The public needs to be educated on what can and cannot be flushed down toilets or poured down drains, the report concluded.  

Fats, oils and grease, together with cleaning and hygiene products containing plastic, including single-use hygiene products, are clogging up drains and sewage works.

Polluted water of a lake with waste and rubbish in it
Just 14% of rivers in England have a good ecological status (Picture: Getty)

Committee chair, Philip Dunne, said: ‘Rivers are the arteries of nature and must be protected.

‘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 should be reviewed and enforcement ramped up, the report recommended.

The EAC also called on the Environment Agency to create an online platform for scientists to upload their data on water quality.

‘So many emerging pollutants are being missed by inadequate and insufficient monitoring, and court actions against polluters have fallen dramatically,’ Mr Dunne added.

‘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.’

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Maureen McLean/REX/Shutterstock (12603881j) Pollution at a weir on the Jubilee River in Taplow. Environmentalists are concerned that not enough is being done to stop water companies discharging pollution into the rivers and seas around the UK. The Jubilee River is a Flood Alleviation Scheme for Windsor and Maidenhead that takes excess water from the River Thames in times of flooding with the aim of preventing property flooding in the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead Daily Life, UK - 15 Nov 2021
Pollution at a weir on the Jubilee River in Taplow, Berkshire in November last year (Picture: Maureen McLean/REX/Shutterstock)

The report come as the Environment Agency launched a major probe into possible unauthorised spills at thousands of sewage treatment works.

It has issued £137million fines since 2015 for pollution incidents.

The agency has also put new rules in place for water companies to ‘significantly increase’ the monitoring and reporting of problems.

An EA spokesperson said: ‘Everyone should understand the scale of the challenges and the investment needed to put things right.

‘We welcome the EAC’s recommendations and will respond in due course.’

Environment Minister Rebecca Pow said the government welcomes the report and was going ‘further and faster than any other government to protect and enhance the health of rivers and seas’.

Get in touch with our news team by emailing us at webnews@metro.co.uk.

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