The Wandle river has been declared a “crime scene” by climate activists Extinction Rebellion after Government data showed raw sewage has been dumped in it 63 times in a year.
The Wandle river runs through Wandsworth and Extinction Rebellion installed their own crime scene on Saturday at the point where it meets Mapleton Road and Garratt Lane.
A dozen members of the climate group, some fully clad in hazmat suits, gloves, shoe protectors and goggles, ran an on-site forensics lab which allowed members of the public to see what the water contained.
Among the contaminants they found raw sewage, E.Coli bacteria, Hepatitis A, microplastics and sanitary products.
According to Government data, Thames Water dumped sewage into the Wandle 63 times. They also discharged sewage into the Graveney, which feeds into the Wandle, 119 times.
“This is bad for human health and bad for wildlife,” said Andrew Harding, a member of Extinction Rebellion Wandsworth.
The Wandle is a rare urban chalk stream, one of only two in London. Only 200 chalk streams are
known globally, 85 per cent of which are found in the UK in southern and eastern England.
Water companies are legally allowed to release sewage into rivers only in exceptional circumstances, such as storms or unusually heavy rain.
Extinction Rebellion has accused Thames Water of paying out huge sums to investors and senior executives, instead of investing sufficiently to upgrade their infrastructure.
A Thames Water spokeswoman said: “Our shareholders are in it for the long term, and have not taken a dividend for five years (since 2017) to prioritise investment in improving service for customers and to protect the environment.”
Extinction Rebellion also claim Thames Water’s infrastructure will become more inadequate as climate change increases the likelihood of heavier and more frequent rainfall, particularly in the winter.
The Thames Water spokeswoman added: “We’re the first company to provide live alerts for all untreated discharges throughout our region and this ‘near real-time’ data is available to customers as a map on our website and is also available through an open data platform for third parties, such as swimming and environmental groups, to use.
“Of course, what matters most is stopping the need for the discharges and we’ve committed £1.6billion of investment in our sewage treatment works and sewers over the next two years.
“This will help us deliver our commitment to a 50 per cent reduction in the total annual duration of discharges across London and the Thames Valley by 2030, and within that an 80 per cent reduction in sensitive catchments.”
The climate action group also blamed the Government and claimed it has failed to regulate the water industry effectively and “allowed Thames Water to put profits before people and the environment”.
In the coming days, ministers are expected to announce plans to “make polluters pay” – lifting a cap of
£250,000 for penalties for firms that release sewage into rivers and the sea.
“This would be a step in the right direction,” said Harding. ‘The difficulty would be proving that
illegal sewage spills have occurred, especially as the Environment Agency is so underfunded it
can’t carry out adequate monitoring.”
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has been contacted for comment.
Pictured top: Extinction Rebellion setup the crime scene on Saturday (Picture: Extinction Rebellion)
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