Guide drops 70 beaches as health risks: Sewage pollution still a major problem

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The Independent Online
MORE THAN 70 beaches have been dropped from the latest issue of the Heinz Good Beach Guide published today, mainly because of new research indicating that water previously considered safe to bathe in may be harmful to health.

Several well-known resort beaches are among those dropped, including Swanage, Weymouth, Bournemouth and Studland in Dorset; Teignmouth and Budleigh Salterton in Devon; Bridlington, Filey, Robin Hood's Bay and Whitby in Yorkshire; Eastbourne (east of the pier) and Bexhill in East Sussex and Whitstable in Kent.

Out of more than 500 British beaches examined, only 91 have been awarded top marks in the guide, produced by the Marine Conservation Society. It says sewage pollution is still a major problem around the coastline, with at least 88 per cent of sewage from coastal populations discharged raw or after only preliminary treatment to screen out solids.

It also has harsh words for the Seaside Awards - devised last year by the Tidy Britain Group, the English Tourist Board and the British Resorts Association, with the backing of the Department of the Environment, after tighter European standards meant the number of British beaches meriting the prestigious Blue Flag Award fell from 35 to 17.

The guide describes the Seaside Awards as 'possibly the most outrageous piece of environmental trickery relating to beaches' and says they were 'simply a tool by which a flag of sorts will fly at those UK resorts with borderline water quality - the same resorts that the Department of the Environment's own research shows carry an unacceptable risk to health'.

Of more than 100 entries for a Seaside Award, which puts a heavy emphasis on beach facilities, all 43 of the resort beaches and 50 of the 58 rural beaches received an award. The guide says the public should ignore the Seaside Awards, which are opposed by the Institution of Environmental Health Officers, Friends of the Earth and the Consumers' Association.

In line with the Blue Flag awards, this year's Heinz guide has adopted the guideline standard of the European Community's bathing water directive, which sets water quality criteria 20 times stricter than the mandatory standards. Research by the Departments of Health and the Environment indicates that the EC standard should now be regarded as the minimum target for UK beaches.

Health studies in Wirral, for example, have shown that waters which pass the mandatory standard, and could thus gain a Seaside Award, carry a measurable health risk, including ear, nose and throat infections, diarrhoea, vomiting and a risk of more serious disases such as hepatitis. Of the 91 recommended beaches, most are in Scotland (21) and the South-west (29). The South-east, which includes East Anglia, has only nine and the North-west none.

Tourism chiefs at Sandown, on the Isle of Wight, and Bournemouth in Dorset, which have been left out of the guide for allegedly failing to meet certain water quality standards, are planning to take High Court action to stop its publication - because they say it threatens thousands of jobs.

Both resorts say they have met EC standards and that being left out of the guide could deter tourists.

The Heinz Good Beach Guide; Marine Conservation Society; pounds 6.99.