Sewage water: Teacher forced to quit job after surfing in Devon leaves him with incurable ear condition - 'likely' from dirty water

Reuben Santer, 33, had to stop working after he contracted Meniere's disease after surfing at Saunton Beach in Devon - with the cause "likely" from sewage-polluted water
Reuben Santer, 33, had to stop working after he contracted Meniere's disease after surfing at Saunton Beach in Devon - with the cause "likely" sewage-polluted water. (Photo: Getty Images)Reuben Santer, 33, had to stop working after he contracted Meniere's disease after surfing at Saunton Beach in Devon - with the cause "likely" sewage-polluted water. (Photo: Getty Images)
Reuben Santer, 33, had to stop working after he contracted Meniere's disease after surfing at Saunton Beach in Devon - with the cause "likely" sewage-polluted water. (Photo: Getty Images)

A teacher was forced to stop working after he contracted an incurable ear condition that he believes was from surfing in waters polluted by raw sewage. Reuben Santer told Sky News his problems started last November after he surfed at Saunton Beach in Devon.

The 33-year-old developed an infection in his middle ear and his symptoms went away with antibiotics but he fell ill a month later after going back in the water for the first time. He said he only realised afterwards that a sewage pollution warning had been in place and a day later he was "throwing up, having intense rotational vertigo, I completely lost my balance". 

It emerged he had labyrinthitis in his inner ear which then triggered Meniere's disease which Mr Santer said “doesn't have a known cure.” He told Sky News: “I had no idea what was going on. I went to the doctor and they said it was a middle ear infection likely caused by dirty water but it's impossible to prove."

He added that he has had "a really awful nine months, the worst thing is I lost my job”. Mr Santer said he “could not handle being in a classroom and having unpredictable attacks of vertigo” and “it was pretty traumatic”.

Despite Mr Santer’s condition not being able to be proven to be from surfing in sewage-polluted waters, a report by Surfers Against Sewage (SAS) found that reports to them of people becoming sick after entering water have nearly tripled in the last year. In its annual Water Quality Report released last week, the campaign group said between October 2022 and September 2023 1,924 people reported getting ill after entering the water - up from 720 the year previously.

Reuben Santer, 33, had to stop working after he contracted Meniere's disease after surfing at Saunton Beach in Devon - with the cause "likely" from sewage-polluted water. (Photo: Getty Images)Reuben Santer, 33, had to stop working after he contracted Meniere's disease after surfing at Saunton Beach in Devon - with the cause "likely" from sewage-polluted water. (Photo: Getty Images)
Reuben Santer, 33, had to stop working after he contracted Meniere's disease after surfing at Saunton Beach in Devon - with the cause "likely" from sewage-polluted water. (Photo: Getty Images)

Of those who visited a doctor, three out of four people said the doctor attributed their illness to exposure to sewage-polluted waters. The report revealed that the illnesses caused an estimated five years worth of sick days and the majority of cases happened at bathing sites considered to be "excellent" quality.

Giles Bristow, the CEO of Surfers Against Sewage, hopes the annual report gives people “the ammunition to fight for the ocean and the places you love” ahead of the general election next year. He told Sky News that more people are using water for recreational activities at the same time as sewage is being dumped so "it's bound to be that more people are getting ill".

A Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs spokesperson admitted the levels of sewage discharges in UK waterways is "unacceptable" but insisted action was being taken to address it including the Plan for Water which will see firms face unlimited fines for sewage dumping. The spokesperson said: "This plan includes targets so strict they are leading to the largest infrastructure programme in water company history - £60bn over 25 years - which in turn will result in hundreds of thousands fewer sewage discharges.”

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