Tests reveal ‘harmful’ pollution in the sea near the outlet of Southern Water’s Swalecliffe treatment works
Campaigners are calling for increased testing after finding ‘deeply concerning’ levels of bacteria in the sea following discharges from Southern Water.
Volunteers from the Green Party and SOS Whitstable carried out citizen water quality tests at popular bathing sites near the Swalecliffe treatment plant outlet.
It comes as concerns over sea pollution continue to grow, amid the continued dumping of sewage into the sea.
Activists say the results revealed “very high” levels of E.
The bacteria can cause diarrhoea, fever, cramps and vomiting – symptoms members of SOS Whitstable and other bathers say they have experienced.
One of the tests was conducted at West Beach on February 6, two days after a 2.4-hour sewage release. Another was taken at Tankerton on February 14, a day after a six and a half hour release.
Meanwhile, the volunteers say tests showed bacterial pollution may have reached dangerous levels for 10 days, with intestinal enterococci found in the water, which come from faeces and are harmful to human health.
But the tests take into account all coliform bacteria – which are germs found in feces – including a wider range of less harmful types.
Campaigners have called on Southern Water to fund more detailed testing to find out the composition of the pollution it dumps into the sea.
Green Party Councilor Clare Turnbull explained how £500 was spent to buy better testing kit to be used in West Beach and Tankerton for 25 days from February 6.
But she says buying the kits is not sustainable and has asked the water company to carry out daily tests.
“It is shameful that Southern Water continues to pollute our seas,” she said.
“Our shellfish industry depends on clean seawater, as does our reputation as a beautiful seaside town for all to enjoy.”
She said she was “shocked” by the results, adding: “It is an indication that it is dangerous for your health on certain days if you swim.
“What we want is for Southern Water to act faster to deal with spills.”
Dr. Nick Mills, head of Southern Water’s stormwater task force, says the company fully supports citizen science and has offered electronic sampling equipment and scientific support to this group and others.
“We totally agree [the online interactive map] Beachbuoy doesn’t go far enough – near real-time 365-day storm discharge information is useful for recreational water users, but the future lies in real-time water quality testing,” did he declare.
“We are about to launch the UK’s first real-time quality monitoring buoy off Hayling Island, Hampshire, as part of a science program to prove the technology can provide usable data.
“The next buoy for this pilot project will be off Tankerton Beach this summer. In the long term, we hope Beachbuoy will show exactly the impact of storm releases so that we can target investments and partnerships.
An Environment Agency (EA) spokesperson said it was sampling bathing water ‘under strict protocols’ – with analysis by an accredited laboratory and using monitoring processes quality.
“Sampling locations in designated bathing waters are also carefully selected to obtain the most representative sample of E. coli present in the water,” they said.
“These are the accepted methods for assessing bathing water quality across the UK.
“In addition, through the Storm Overflows Taskforce, water companies have agreed to make available real-time data on sewage discharges at bathing sites throughout the year.”
Between May 15 and the end of September, samples are taken by the EA from bathing waters which are tested and the results are updated on its Swimfo site.