Where does sewage go? Map of where raw sewage is being pumped into UK seas, Environment Agency alert explained

Water firms can release untreated sewage into rivers and the sea to stop waste backing up in streets when Britain’s sewers struggle to cope in heavy rain.

More than 50 British beaches have been marked as having a pollution risk from data gathered by environmental campaign group Surfers Against Sewage (SAS).

The data suggests that there has been storm sewage discharge into water at popular beaches around the UK.

Heavy rain after the recent spell of extreme hot weather has led water companies to pump sewage directly into the sea, causing the water to become polluted with potentially dangerous substances.

The contaminated water could lead to serious bugs or illnesses for both humans and animals.

Where does sewage go?

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Britain’s sewers struggle to cope in heavy rain, leaving sewage works overwhelmed.

At this point, water firms are allowed to release rainwater and untreated sewage into rivers and the sea to stop waste backing up in streets and homes.

Raw sewage is dangerously harmful to wildlife and the health of surfers and wild swimmers.

It also poses a dangerous risk to anyone entering the sea in the aftermath of a sewage release.

Beach-lovers online have branded the sewage releases as ‘revolting’ and questioned why water companies are allowed to release it in this way.

Environmentalists say better infrastructure such as storage tanks could prevent this.

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Data gathered by SAS suggests that there has been storm sewage discharge into the water at beaches in Cornwall, Devon, Cumbria, Sussex, Lancashire, Essex, Lincolnshire and Northumberland.

Particular beaches affected include some in Southend-on-Sea and Newquay.

Swimmers on these beaches have been urged to check the interactive Surfers Against Sewage map to stay informed about local water conditions.

What is the Environment Agency alert?

The Environment Agency has issued pollution alerts across the country, warning that the heavy rainfall and flooding of the past 48 hours may have affected water quality.

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The torrential conditions have forced water companies to release sewage in an effort to prevent drainage systems from being overwhelmed.

There could be serious health risks to swimming in contaminated water.

It is advised that you look at that Surfers Against Sewage map before you next hit the beach.

Here are the beaches that have a pollution risk warning in place:

  • Walney West Shore
  • Walney Sandy Gap
  • Walney Biggar Bank
  • Rest Bay (Porthcawl)
  • Sandy Bay (Porthcawl)
  • Bristol Floating Harbour
  • Warleigh Weir
  • Minehead Terminus
  • Mawgan Porth
  • Watergate
  • Fistral North
  • Fistral South
  • Crantock
  • Porthluney
  • Seaton (Cornwall)
  • Teignmouth Holcombe
  • Dawlish Town
  • Exmouth
  • Sidmouth Town
  • Beer
  • Seatown Stream
  • Eypemouth
  • West Bay
  • Swanage Central
  • Swanage Ulwell Stream
  • Hengistbury West, Bournemouth
  • Friars Cliff, Christchurch
  • Christchurch Avon Beach
  • Totland Bay
  • Colwell Bay
  • Gurnard
  • Cowes
  • Ryde
  • St Helens
  • Whitecliff Bay
  • Yaverland
  • Sandown
  • Shanklin
  • Ventnor
  • Stokes Bay
  • Southsea East
  • Littlehampton Coastguards
  • Lancing, Beach Green
  • Shoreham Beach
  • Southwick
  • Saltdean
  • Seaford
  • Birling Gap
  • Pevensey Bay
  • Bexhill
  • Hastings Pelham Beach
  • Hythe
  • Sandgate
  • Folkestone
  • Tankerton
  • West Beach, Whitstable
  • Leysdown
  • Sheerness Canterbury
  • Leigh Bell Wharf
  • Southend Three Shells
  • Southend Jubilee Beach
  • Heacham
  • Ingoldmells South
  • Cleethorpes
  • Humberston Fitties

Pollution levels at many beaches in Scotland are currently unavailable due to them being classed as out of season.

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What’s been said about sewage in our seas?

A spokesperson for Southern Water said: “Thunder storms brought heavy rain which fell onto parched ground and couldn’t absorb surface run-off, meaning that more rain than usual overwhelmed our network.

‘This led to some overflows – which are used to protect homes, schools, businesses and hospitals from flooding – spilling excess water into the sea in parts of Sussex, including Seaford.

“These discharges are heavily diluted and typically 95% of them are rainwater.”

The spokesperson added: “We are dedicated to significantly reducing storm overflows and are running innovative pilot schemes across the region to reduce the amount of rainfall entering our combined sewers by 2030.”

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In 2020 there were more than 400,000 incidents of sewage being released by water companies in Britain.

The SAS and other environmental groups have been campaigning for water companies to be prevented from allowing sewage to be released into the UK’s oceans for several years.

The campaign comes after MPs voted against an amendment to a bill which would have prevented companies from dumping raw sewage into UK rivers in October last year.