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The UK's Beaches Are Increasingly Polluted With Raw Sewage. Here's How to Check Before You Go

United Kingdom Travel Safety Sustainability News
by Morgane Croissant May 6, 2024

We would all love to think that when we use the toilet and flush, the content goes to a wastewater plant where it gets thoroughly treated before being safely released in other water sources. And in this day and age, in countries where people pay taxes for this very procedure to take place, it should happen exactly that way. In England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland, it’s certainly not the case. An increasing number of raw sewage spills are polluting the UK’s coast and waterways, making swimming not only disgusting, but unsafe.

While the UK does have wastewater treatment facilities all over the countries, there has been 464,056 sewage spills in 2023. That’s a 54 percent increase from 2022.

The sewage spills come from a pretty loose usage of the storm overflows, a system that allows sewage to be released in waterways in case of an extreme event. The UK environmental Agency describes storm flows as “an automatic safety valve that release excess pressure on the network from flooding and rainfall or snowmelt – preventing sewage backing up into properties and streets. They should, however, only be used under strict permit conditions.”

While storm overflows are more monitored than ever, and the UK Environmental Agency vows to investigate and take action against water companies that use storm overflows illegally, the numbers show that there’s a lot of ground to cover to stop the spillages. Private water companies in the UK are using storm overflows much too often, releasing untreated, raw sewage on the country’s coasts and its waterways, making people ill, killing wildlife, and contaminating food sources.

Surfers Against Sewage, a small organization fighting to protect the UK’s waterway against sewage spills and plastic pollution received “1,924 sickness reports from water users who got ill after entering the water” in between October 2022 and September 2023.

If you want to enjoy the UK’s beautiful beaches, but really don’t want to swim along turds (or even toilet paper and used sanitary products as reported by CNN), you would do well to consult Surfers Against Sewage’s map of sewage spills before you head out. You can download the Safer Seas & Rivers Service (SSRS) app for free to know exactly where not to go for a beach trip in the UK.

Currently, a trip to Northern Scotland, Cornwall, Suffolk and Norfolk, would be your best bet for a sewage-free beach vacation, but spillages can happen fast, so check the map frequently.

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