Press Release – British Bathing Waters

Wednesday 4th April 2007

MARINET (1) has today published evidence (2) which shows that British seaside bathing waters could be seriously polluted by dangerous pathogens (3) which present a very serious health risk to bathers.

Although the UK Government claims that 99.5% of UK bathing waters meet the mandatory standard (4) of the EC Bathing Water Directive, research by MARINET has discovered that testing of bathing water quality has ignored serious pathogens (3) which are often present due to sewage pollution and, in reality, only 5.5% of UK beaches meet the EC’s full mandatory bathing water standard.

Patrick Gowen, MARINET’s researcher says “We have known for some time that the UK Government has been fiddling the figures on UK bathing water quality, but the scale of this mis-representation has surprised us. We have discovered that UK bathing waters are, almost universally, not being tested for the real pathogens caused by sewage pollution – although the EC Directive says that the UK should be doing this testing. Therefore our advice to UK bathers this summer is “Beware – monitoring procedures throughout the UK are seriously deficient and, as a consequence, the Blue Flags (5) are virtually meaningless.”

Contact: Pat Gowen, MARINET researcher, tel. 01603-402554, email hidden; JavaScript is required
Stephen Eades, MARINET co-ordinator, tel. 01249-653972, email hidden; JavaScript is required

Notes to Editors:

  • 1. MARINET is the Marine Network of Friends of the Earth Local Groups,
  • 2. The full published evidence relating to the compliance of UK Bathing Waters with the mandatory standard of the EC Bathing Water Directive, 76.160/EEC
  • 3. The types of pathogens present in sea water as a result of sewage discharges are numerous. The testing regime to comply with the mandatory standard of the EC Bathing Water Directive, 76/160/EEC, requires testing for salmonella and enteroviruses, and requires that none are present. In 2006 the UK Government only tested for salmonella and enteroviruses in 40 out of 530 UK bathing waters. The types of pathogens that this sampling is looking for and the diseases they can cause are as follows:

1) Bacterial Pathogens

Pathogen Disease Associated
Campylobacter Gastroenteritis
Chlostridium Botulinis Botulism
Certain Coliforms Diarrhoea & Blood Poisoning
E.Coli-0157 Gastroenteritis & Renal Failure
Leptospira Leptospirosis (Weill’s Disease)
Proteus types Diarrhoea
Psuedomonas Localised Infection
Salmonella Typhi Typhoid & other enteric fevers
Other Salmonella serotypes Food Poisoning Symptoms
Shigella (various) Bacterial Dysentery
Tubercle bacilli Tuberculosis
Yersinia enterococci Gastroenteritis

2) Viral Pathogens

Pathogen Disease Associated
Adenovirus Acute Haemorrhagic Cystitis
Cocksackie Aseptic Meningitis
Echovirus Aseptic Meningitis
Epidemic Gastroenteritis B Gastroenteritis
Infectious Hepatitis Liver Inflammation
Norwalkvirus Gastroenteritis
Poliovirus Poliomyelitis & Meningitis
Small Round Viruses (SRV’s) Gastroenteritis

Reference:- Memoranda from Pat Gowen, Norwich & Broadland Friends of the Earth to the House of Commons 1997-98 Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Committee on ‘Sewage Treatment and Disposal’, pages 179 – 188, published 28th October 1997. Stationary Office, London, HC266-III.

Additional to these are parasites that also can damage health, such as: –

3) Parasites

Parasite Disease Associated
Balantidium Coli Balantidial Dysentery
Cryptosporidium Epidemic Diarrhoea
Entamoeba Histolyticad Amoebic Dysentery
Giardia Lamblia Diarrhoea
Intestinal Flukes Intestinal Infections
Isopora hominus Coccidosis
Liver Flukes Liver infection
Pinworm (eggs) Ascariasis
Tapeworms Tapeworm infestation
  • 4. The sampling regime for the Mandatory Standard requires that a bathing water must have no more than 5% of the samples (1 of the 20) showing either more than 10,000 total coliforms per 100ml, or 2,000 faecal coliforms per 100ml. This, and this alone, is what DEFRA’s claimed passes are based upon.However, what is withheld from knowledge in the United Kingdom is that the Directive also demands that in order to meet the imperative mandatory standard the bathing water must also have a complete absence of both enteroviruses and salmonella.A single finding of either enteroviruses or salmonella over the whole previous year’s sampling fails the resort against the imperative mandatory standard, as it is these pathogens, not the coliforms, that are responsible for most of the illnesses associated with bathing in sewage polluted waters.The UK Government claims that these pathogens are not investigated because of the cost involved in doing so. Yet, although on a different budget, that cost imposed to the NHS and public health is far greater!
  • 5. Blue Flags are administered by ENCAMS (formerly The Tidy Britain Group). To obtain a Blue Flag a bathing water must pass both the mandatory and guideline standards of the EC Bathing Water Directive, see: If a bathing water has not been tested for salmonella and enteroviruses, as many UK Blue Flag bathing waters are not, then it cannot be said that the bathing water complies with the mandatory standard, thus the Blue Flag status is suspect.


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