Activists discover dirty secret of Britain’s ‘cleanest’ beaches

Bathers exposed to raw sewage, anti-pollution group says

At least one in four of Britain’s premier bathing beaches are failing to meet the strict requirements of their “Blue Flag” designation, freedom of information requests to local authorities and beach operators have found.
The result is that tens of thousands of bathers who believe they have been swimming in Britain’s cleanest waters may have unknowingly been exposed to raw sewage, according to pollution watchdog group Surfers against Sewage (SAS). The beaches in question have no system in place to monitor daily sewage pollution or to warn people if an overflow occurs. SAS says they should be stripped of their status.

Only 131 beaches in Britain have been awarded the coveted Blue Flag status, an international standard that is only granted if beach operators meet more than 30 strict criteria. Local authorities, who compete to get the coveted designation, pay more than £600 (Dh3,497.44) a year to be allowed to fly the blue flag.
No warning

But SAS research seen by the Guardian shows that 35 of the 131 beaches cannot possibly meet criterion 28 of the Blue Flag code. This requires beach operators to warn the public during and after emergency pollution events, such as a sewage discharge. According to the FoI requests made by the group, many local authorities responsible for accredited beaches do not ask for any data from water companies on combined sewage overflow spills, where heavy rain causes sewers to flood and discharge into the sea.

The 35 beaches named today by SAS include some of the most popular in Britain. There are 20 in England, including Polzeath and four others in Cornwall, Woolacombe and one other in Devon, Margate and four others in Kent and several on the Isle of Wight. A further nine beaches in Wales, three in Scotland and three in Northern Ireland were named. Last night Andy Cummins, SAS director, called for the 35 beaches to lose their Blue Flag status.

“It is a major concern that these 35 beaches could have the Blue Flag flying while the public could unwittingly be swimming around in raw sewage discharged from nearby combined sewer overflows. Pathogens associated with sewage polluted waters include: ecoli 0157H, hepatitis A, and gastroenteritis.

“We have had many calls from people saying that they used Blue Flag beaches and who said they became very ill. It’s impossible to prove that they have been made ill by pollution picked up there, but we have compelling cases of incidents impacting on people’s health.”

Cummins said he suspected that many other popular bathing beaches were regularly polluted by raw sewage: “There are more than 20,000 combined sewage outfalls and it is very hard to keep track of them.”
The Blue Flag programme is a worldwide initiative run by Foundation for Environmental Education, based in Denmark. There are Blue Flag beaches in North, Central and South America, the Caribbean, Africa, New Zealand and throughout Europe.

Courtesy: Gulf News

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