Europe may sue UK over raw sewage releases

For at least three years, the UK has been in breach of EU law that forbids the discharge of raw sewage into the sea and rivers, prompting the Commission's decision to pursue legal action this week.

London and three other British urban areas regularly release untreated sewage directly into rivers and seas when their water treatment facilities overflow.

The Commission blames this on inadequate treatment and collection facilities, which release millions of cubic meters of untreated wastewater into the environment whenever demand exceeds capacity – which happens more than 80 times each year in some cases.

It had issued a final official warning before court action is taken against the UK, which it says is in breach of the EU’s Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive, and has now threatened to challenge the UK in the European Court of Justice.

Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said: “To ensure that the health of citizens and the environment in the United Kingdom is protected, it is key that adequate collection and treatment facilities for sewage are put in place.”

The Government received warnings over inadequate collecting and treatment facilities for London’s urban wastewater in May 2005, and for Torbay and Whitburn in England and Kilbarchan in Scotland in April 2003. The It responded with information on planned actions, but failed to do enough to remedy the situation, the Commission has judged.

The results of inadequate water treatment facilities are dire for water quality, the survival of fish and ecosystems, but also pose risk to human health as bacteria and viruses are introduced into bodies of water.

Goska Romanowicz

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