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Sewerage is being flushed into rivers ‘through illegal pipes’ in latest pollution scandal, probe finds

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Sewerage is being flushed into rivers ‘through illegal pipes’ in latest pollution scandal, probe finds

  • Water companies illegally discharge wastewater through more than 870 discharge pipes
  • Companies need permits and are only allowed to discharge wastewater under strict conditions
  • Ex Environment Agency employee said funding to enforce it has been cut
  • Organization representing companies agrees on ‘urgent need to address environmental damage’

Water companies illegally discharge wastewater through more than 870 unlicensed discharge pipes, a probe has found.

Such pipes ensure that untreated wastewater can flow into rivers and seas during heavy rainfall.

But water companies are subject to licensing, so that they can only discharge wastewater under strict conditions that control the impact on the environment.

Northumbrian Water has 61 unlicensed sewage pipes, Channel 4’s Dispatches found. Welsh Water has 184 in use that are not licensed.

Water companies illegally discharge wastewater through more than 870 unlicensed discharge pipes, probe has found (stock image sewer pipes)

Helen Nightingale, who recently left the Environment Agency, said: ‘There has been a huge cut in funding… we don’t enforce against water companies to the same extent.’

Sewage to be discharged into the sea, at Seaford, East Sussex, August 16

Sewage is discharged into the sea, at Seaford, East Sussex, August 16

As for the unlicensed pipes, Water UK, which represents the companies, said it agreed “there is an urgent need to address the environmental damage caused by spills from storm overflows and wastewater treatment plants”.

The Environment Agency says it will hold the industry to account.

The number of unlicensed sewer pipes in the UK was obtained through requests to the Environmental Information Ordinance.

It follows warnings to vacationers earlier this month from Surfers Against Sewage to avoid 50 beaches where the sea has been polluted by sewage.

Last week, it emerged that water companies fail to report thousands of leaks because they have no monitors or have installed faulty ones.

An Environment Agency spokesman said: “Water companies have rightly been condemned by ourselves, the government, activists and the public for allowing far too many wastewater discharges and we are holding the industry accountable on an unprecedented scale.”

A spokesman for the Ministry of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: ‘We are the first government to take action to tackle sewage overflows.

“We’ve made it clear that water companies’ reliance on overflows is unacceptable and that they must significantly reduce the amount of waste water they discharge as a matter of priority.”

Britain’s Water Scandal: Dispatches can be seen on Channel 4 tonight at 7.30pm.

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