Green channel

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The Independent Online
Inspired by the Beach Boys, you might want to get your surfboard for a New Year dip in our coastal waters. But news from Surfers Against Sewage (SAS) will make you think again.

Unfortunately, current water quality standards only apply during the "bathing season" which runs from May to September. Outside these months sewage is often left untreated. Even during the summer, however, our seas have rather a murky reputation. Three hundred million gallons of sewage are discharged into the sea every day via outfalls around the British coastline.

The most common infections caused by this pollution are ear, nose, throat and gastrointestinal complaints. Hepatitis A has also been shown to be a health risk to recreational water users, as well as ME (extreme fatigue syndrome).

There are, of course, standards. But only 136 out of 763 statutorily monitored bathing waters reached "recommended" status in this year's Good Beach Guide compiled by the Marine Conservation Society (MCS). Add to that the fact that 74 per cent of sewage-related illnesses reported to SAS originate from beaches that are given a "pass" by the government, and we really are in it up to our necks, so to speak.

Compared with the rest of Europe, Britain's sewage record is dismal. Most British beaches failed to meet the EC Bathing Water Directive's 10- year deadline to clean up its act, and Britain has been prosecuted by the European Court for two years running.

So is there no way out of this mire? Yes - and it's quite easy. Jersey, Wales and Yorkshire have all installed year-round ultra-violet disinfection systems, which SAS and MCS say should be standard for all coastal areas. This system is so effective that SAS insist that if you want to take a dip in British waters, it is safer to swim in the outflow of Jersey's fully-treated sewage plant, than on some of Britain's beaches.

Surfers Against Sewage 01872 553001

Sue Wheat