William Eichler 29 February 2024

‘Outdated’ pollution warning systems putting swimmers at risk

‘Outdated’ pollution warning systems putting swimmers at risk image
Image: Huw Fairclough / Shutterstock.com.

Swimmers could be at risk of bathing in sewage due to an ‘outdated’ pollution warning system, researchers at the University of Reading have warned.

The current system used by local authorities for issuing warnings uses ‘limited data’ that often ‘fails to capture extreme bacteria levels from sewage and agricultural discharges,’ according to the study.

Local authorities urgently need to make use of improved forecasting techniques to identify the dangers from bugs such as E. coli or intestinal enterococci, which can be lethal, the researchers added.

Lead author of the study Karolina Krupska said: ‘We expect beaches that are designated for swimming to be clean and safe, but authorities often don’t have good enough information to issue warnings, leaving swimmers and surfers more vulnerable to getting ill.

‘The way we manage our sewage and land means rivers and seas are frequently polluted, and heavier summer downpours due to climate change is making the problem worse at the time of year when people are most likely to be at the beach.

‘With existing pollution warning systems, beach users don't have good enough information to decide whether it is safe to go in the water. The science underpinning the next generation of bathing forecasting already exists, but a lack of action means these solutions have not been implemented.’

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