Traces of E.coli have reportedly been found in seawater off beaches in Blackpool after raw sewage flowed into the sea during heavy rainfall earlier this week (June 16)..
Now, samples taken by representatives of campaign group Surfers Against Sewage (SAS) are alleged to have contained the dangerous bacteria, which can cause diarrhoea, stomach cramps and occasionally fever.
Untreated water was discharged directly into the Irish Sea Monday night (June 12) during repair work at a treatment facility in Fleetwood. The United Utilities treatment works had been running at a reduced capacity, and 40mm of rain fall in around two hours, caused the system to temporarily reach full capacity at sites in Blackpool.
Untreated sewage, mixed with rainwater, was released into the sea. This incident led to the Environment Agency, and various councils along the Fylde coast, warning people not to enter the water.
The public were told not to swim at any of the beaches at Bispham, Blackpool Central, Blackpool North, Blackpool South, Cleveleys beach, Fleetwood, St Annes or St Annes North until further notice. However, this advice has either gone unseen or ignored with dozens of swimmers seen at Blackpool on Tuesday.
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A further warning has now been issued by the SAS group which carried out its own analysis of samples taken off Squires Gate. According to Gary Lovatt, the group’s North West rep, these samples were found to contain the E.coli.
He said: “After last nights water sample test, taken at Squires Gate Blackpool. Results are in! I can confirm that there is E.coli present in the water. Also what looks like sludge in the tidal pools! Stay safe and don’t drink the water if you’re going for a paddle”
While many forms of E.coli are harmless, the bacteria can lead to infection with symptoms including diarrhoea, stomach cramps and fever. About half of people with the infection will have bloody diarrhoea, according to NHS Inform.
Symptoms are usually seen three to four days after infection and can last up to two weeks. Although very rare, a small number of cases develop into a more serious condition called haemolytic uraemic syndrome (HUS) which can result in kidney failure and even death.
On Friday (June 16), Labour Parliamentary candidate Chris Webb also posted on social media over concerns there was E.coli in the water. He wrote: “E.coli found in sea water on Blackpool beach after raw sewage discharge overflow.
“A water sample taken in Blackpool South has confirmed there is E.coli present in the sea – a potentially harmful bacteria linked to raw sewage. Bathers are advised not to take to the water at eight beaches – including Bispham, Blackpool Central, Blackpool North, Blackpool South, Cleveleys, Fleetwood, St Annes and St Annes North.”
SAS has long campaigned to improve the quality of water across the UK, in particular targeted the huge amounts of untreated sewage which are discharged. According to an extensive report from the group, more than 700 people reported getting ill after entering the water in 12 months across 2021-22. This was more than double the previous year.
It’s report states: “Swimming in contaminated recreational waters is known to increase the risk of gastroenteritis as well as sinus infections, skin rashes, and conjunctivitis [….] The most common illness reported was Gastroenteritis, with 2 in 3 people reporting sickness experiencing it. Alarmingly, we found that many people have suffered from multiple illnesses, with one in every 15 cases reporting a combination of illnesses, from nasty rashes to bladder infections.”
A spokesperson for Environment Agency said: “As part of the multi-agency response we are working closely with United Utilities to minimise the impacts to people and the environment, which is our priority. Polluting our seas and rivers is unacceptable and we are carrying out a detailed investigation into this incident.
“We take tough action against those who pollute and will take appropriate enforcement action, as required.We urge beach users to follow local information and signage, and to visit the Swimfo website to access further information.”
United Utilities referred LancsLive to the Environment Agency regarding the latest update. Speaking earlier this week, Mark Garth, wastewater director at United Utilities, said: “This is a very unusual incident and our teams are working around the clock to minimise any impact on the environment. The burst occurred on a large pipe which is deep underground, making the repair complex and challenging.
“We are installing temporary overland pipework to bypass the burst pipe so that the treatment plant can continue to operate while the repair work is carried out. The reduced capacity at the treatment works and in our network as a result of this burst meant there was less storage available than normal to deal with the heavy rainfall last night.
“This resulted in storm overflows operating. We are working closely with the Environment Agency and local councils as we respond to this.”
Since the burst occurred United Utilities has been able to avoid any further spills from storm overflows by rerouting some of the wastewater that goes to Fleetwood and by using a fleet of 50 tankers to take it to other sites for treatment. If the current dry weather continues, the firm is confident that the storm overflows will not spill again.
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