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Rain causes beach threat to bathing water quality rating

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: July 17, 2012

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Heavy summer downpours have caused bacteria levels to soar at many Westcountry beaches, which are now in danger of failing national standards as well as tough new European rules.

Conservationists say the rocketing levels of toxins – up 5,000% at some sites according to The Times newspaper – are due to drainage systems becoming overwhelmed and discharging raw sewage, including human excrement, sanitary products and condoms, straight into the region's best loved bathing spots.

Campaigners have warned that many of these key tourist areas are now in danger of slipping right back down the water quality league table, undoing years of hard work to shake off the unwanted label, "dirty man of Europe".

The Marine Conservation Society has warned of "an unprecedented risk to public health" this summer.

Pollution program manager Dr Rob Keirle said the results of awards schemes, such as the coveted Blue Flag, would look "pretty bleak next year" with many regular winners failing to reach the minimum standard.

And he said more exacting European standards due in 2015 would be twice as hard to meet, something which could seriously impact on key tourist centres and the economy.

"The rain has washed animal faeces and agricultural slurry off the land and out to sea – it's never been this bad before," he added.

But the pollution from natural drainage has been exacerbated by the effluent discharged into the sea by Britain's 22,000 combined sewer overflows (CSO).

Cornwall-based campaigners Surfers Against Sewage monitors CSOs at 50 beaches across Devon and Cornwall, sending out warnings through its pioneering real time alert system, run along with South West Water.

The group said the worst offenders, including around 20 in Devon and Cornwall, were discharging much more often than usual this year.

Campaign director Andy Cummins said around 100 beaches remain unchecked under the system, which could mean the figures were only "the tip of the iceberg".

He called for serious investment by water companies to prevent a slew of bad results.

"This is the first year of taking samples for the revised EU directive in 2015 – for the next few years we have got no slack – everything will have to work amazingly or we will have sewage warnings posted all over our beaches," he added.

"A lot of the EU doesn't have the CSO system we have – we have worked hard to shake off the 'dirty man of Europe' tag and we are on the brink of falling right back down the league table."

The Environment Agency, which tests bathing water, said "we should brace ourselves for pretty poor results".

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  • westwardhobod  |  July 19 2012, 6:34AM

    At Westward Ho! Blue Flag beach we have horses on the beach after after the 9am deadline as well as many dogs in the restricted areas. Dog fouling left in the streets and promenade wash down onto the beach. A local shop tips cleaning water from a bucket outside in the street. Gulls and rats are attracted by bird feeders, lack of litter bins in certain areas and pub owners leaving food on outside tables for too long. Sanitary towels, toilet tissue and other objects have been seen in the Northam Burrows near the pumping station.

  • AvonCornwall  |  July 18 2012, 6:59PM

    Several key areas for shellfish harvesting have been closed for the same reasons. My business has been shutdown for two weeks now. We need two weeks of clean readings before I can start earning again. Thankfully I work closely with Port Health in tested waters, so had plenty of warning thus not endangering the public with toxic shellfish. More needs to be done to protect our waters, not only from an environmental point of view but also for our Cornish way of life.

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  • shagrats  |  July 18 2012, 1:11PM

    I know, why don't we just make up our own standards that do not have the same stringent health and saftey margins as the European Blue Flag, why done we call it the EU Blue Flag. It will confuse people and then we can still have a blue flag while pumping out sewage onto the coastal playgrounds. or why dont we fix it that sewage and rainwater run into different systems like other countries do.

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  • manwithaplan  |  July 17 2012, 5:56PM

    you just need to see the colour of the river waters around here at the moment. very brown due to the extra wash off from the land.

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  • toffer99  |  July 17 2012, 3:17PM

    We seem to be totally reliant on volunteers to warn us of problems - the Marine Conservation Society and Surfers Against Sewage. The Environment Agency don't mention pollution of beaches or the sea on their website, they just seem concerned with permits. They have no method of giving warnings if sewage is discharged onto our local beaches. What it would really take is qualified, trained microbiologists to take samples from every beach once a week and then analyse them for bacteria and toxins quickly, issuing warnings where necessary. Fat chance of that happening with the slash and burn tactics of this one-term government that nobody voted for. A year ago the Government published its "open public services" white paper, the masterplan for dismantling the state. Read it and weep for your children: http://tinyurl.com/6kx447x Their only public services will come from bungling outfits like G4S, Serco and Virgin. These days I feel as if we had lost the second world war and now suffer under a malignant and incompetent rule by invaders. It gets depressing, and rather than continue to bang on about it, I suggest looking at this: http://tinyurl.com/6umx49q

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