Waste Water – Are Water Companies Downplaying Contamination?

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Regulation and maintenance of water quality has incredibly far reaching impacts – local wildlife rely on un-contaminated rivers and lakes, residents need confidence that water is safe to drink and coastal waters have even wider impacts on marine life.

But is everything being done to ensure this is the case?

In this latest post, UK water pump provider Pumping Solutions runs through recent concerns in the UK and US water industries about contamination and the withholding of testing data from the public.

UK Water Companies ‘Withheld’ Sewage Data

As a result of a freedom of information request (FOI) by Fish Legal, an independent organisation who campaign against pollution of freshwater and marine water environments, it was revealed last month that the content of almost 2,000 sewage outfalls aren’t known to the Environment Agency. This means that any discharge from outfalls could be polluting everything from local rivers and lakes to coastal waters without the EA’s knowledge.

After the water industry was privatised in 1989, temporary permits were granted by parliament to allow outfalls in particular areas to continue. Since then, a 2009 application by the EA to ensure these temporary consents in line with permanent ones was thwarted by an appeal from private water companies.

Since then, the EA gave a February deadline to water companies to supply the regulator with information directly – the results of which should be released soon.

Mark Lloyd, Fish Legal’s chief executive, told Utility Week: “It is simply unacceptable that these huge companies have failed to provide the necessary information.”

Could the Problem Be Worldwide?

Earlier this year, The Guardian investigated the systematic ignoring of water authorities’ guidelines in the US – they claim documents they saw revealed ‘questionable practices’ and that water tests were ‘distorted’ to downplay the lead content of water samples.

What this has led to is an emergency EPA order, criticism from the president and a top agency official’s resignation. The Guardian reported how residents of Flint, in Michigan, were relying on bottled water (as well as donations of water) to help them avoid potentially lead-contaminated water.

So what does this ultimately mean for water supplies, not just in the UK but in other developed Western countries? The suggestion from these reports is that more transparency is required from the water companies themselves; public knowledge of quality issues could lead to public pressure on providers to improve practices of water treatment.

The end-results here essentially are improvements of internal industry practices on testing, and better quality water for residents across the country.