Beaches must warn about sewage health threat

Improved signage on beaches warning of times when pollution is likely to occur and marking all sewage discharge points accessible to the public must be put in place urgently according to a pressure group.

Cornwall-based Surfers Against Sewage (SAS) have voiced their concerns about the lack of adequate signage on beaches around the country to warn residents and holiday makers of potential pollution, highlighting the possible sources and consequent infection.

This announcement comes following the second summer in a row where beach pollution incidents have been closely linked with cases of sewage-related illness such as Ecoli 0157 or impetigo, to which young children are particularly susceptible.

Records held by SAS show at least fifteen people are reported to have contracted bacterial skin infections from bathing in water contaminated by suspected pollution incidents in Cornwall this summer.

“It is essential that signs are put up at all the beaches in the UK which have had a problem in the past,” Andy Cummins from the SAS campaigns department told edie. “Not giving the public sufficient information is like playing Russian Roulette with their health.”

As well as poor signage, Mr Cummins said that other major factors adding to the problem were global warming and the fact that combined sewer and stormwater overflows (CSOs) desperately needed to be updated (see related story).

“All the heavy rain we have had over the last couple of years, which is undoubtedly linked to climate change, means that the old CSOs cannot cope with the volume of overflow, and as the threat of global warming increases, this problem will just get worse,” he said.

A report, entitled There’s no such thing as too much information was recently issued by SAS to all councils in the UK that had any history of pollution problems on their beaches, but Mr Cummins confirmed that only one had taken action by putting up warning signs.

Other than the obvious health implications, the outbreak of Ecoli 0157 cases at Watergate Bay have caused particular concern after a young girl died recently from contracting the infection because she had unknowingly been exposed to raw sewage on a beach in Devon.

Campaigns director at SAS, Richard Hardy, said it was vital that councils woke up to the huge health risks posed by unmarked sources of sewage: “Whilst it is too early to pinpoint the pollution source at Watergate Bay, it warrants a thorough investigation. A permanent sign is now in place at Dawlish following recommendations of a coroner at the inquest into the young girl’s death. She had walked through a mixture of raw sewage and rainwater discharged by an unmarked CSO.”

Mr Hardy added that the girl’s mother said if there had been a sign on the beach at that time identifying the stream of effluent that was making its way down to the sea they would have avoided it completely, saving the little girl’s life.

According to Mr Cummins at SAS, local authorities are currently trying to pinpoint the exact source of pollution to areas where these bacterial outbreaks have occurred but nothing has been confirmed as yet.

By Jane Kettle

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