Environment Agency demands fewer serious pollution incidents in UK waters

Environment Agency warns of serious pollution incidents in UK waters © Iain Merchant
© Iain Merchant

The UK’s Environment Agency has published a new report on water quality which warns that there are still too many serious pollution incidents in UK waters.

According to the report, titled “The State of the Environment: Water Quality”, the number of serious pollution incidents in UK waters has fallen by almost two thirds since 2001, from 834. However, there were still 317 incidents in 2016, or almost one every day.

The agriculture industry remains responsible for the largest number of incidents, with 51 in 2016; in fact, this figure has remained steady for the last 11 years.

What needs to be done?

The Environment Agency has recommended a series of actions that must be taken by relevant sectors, including:

  • reducing the plastics, fats and household chemicals disposed in drains;
  • increase efforts to tackle incidents in sewer systems and sewage treatment facilities;
  • take greater care in the use of fertilisers and pesticides, and how these are managed; and
  • reframe environmental risk as a serious consideration, rather than an operational expense.

The Environment Agency has assessed more than 50 million samples over the past 20 years, and seen significant improvements to water quality in that time. The report laments that only 14% of rivers reached good ecological status overall. This rating is only reached if all of the tests administered by the agency are passed.

What did the Environment Agency say?

Emma Howard Boyd, chair of the Environment Agency, insisted that more needs to be done by government and industry stakeholders.

She said: “Water quality is better than at any time since the Industrial Revolution thanks to tougher regulation and years of hard work by the Environment Agency and others. But there are still far too many serious pollution incidents which damage the local environment, threaten wildlife and, in the worst cases, put the public at risk.”

She also recommended that the fines given to companies that are responsible for serious pollution incidents in UK waters be directly related to their profits: “I would like to see fines made proportionate to the turnover of the company and for the courts to apply these penalties consistently. Anything less is no deterrent.”


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