EU expresses concern over UK release of raw sewage into the sea
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Britain has been issued a fierce warning over the discharge of raw sewage into UK waters, a measure that could be understood as a breach of the Brexit withdrawal agreement. Pollution warnings have already been issued to areas across England and Wales after water companies pumped huge amounts of untreated sewage into the sea. The water system is designed to expel sewage into the ocean during spells of heavy rainfall, but the European Commission has expressed concern that seas will become polluted and marine life could be harmed if the UK continues to fail in its sewage management responsibilities.
On Wednesday, a European Commission official announced: “We express our deep concern regarding these uncontrolled discharges and their possible effects on the marine environment and on fisheries.”
She added: “The Trade and Cooperation Agreement makes it clear that its no regression obligation covers the protection and preservation of the marine environment.”
The statement from the European Commission has put the UK under pressure to demonstrate its commitment to environmental protection outlined as part of the Brexit withdrawal from the European Union.
The spokeswoman declared the European Commission would “continue monitoring the situation” to assess whether the UK had “regressed” from the arrangements of the Brexit deal.
Water treatment companies in the UK are permitted to discharge raw sewage into seas and rivers during periods of heavy rainfall.
The measure is intended to prevent the combined water system from becoming overwhelmed, risking flooding to residential homes, roads, and other public spaces.
The discharge of raw sewage is intended to be used as an occasional measure when conditions mean the water treatment system could become inundated, although recent releases of untreated sewage have seen several regions of the UK hit with health warnings.
Predominantly across the south of England, the Environment Agency has been forced to issue dozens of warnings to beachgoers due to unsafe levels of pollution in the water.
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French authorities have aired particular concern over the sewage dumps as the system risks polluting the shared waters of the British Channel.
Last week, three French MEPs urged the European Commission to seek “political and legal” measures to stop the UK sewage discharges.
Their letter read: “We fear for the negative consequences on the quality of seawater that we share with that country and, as a result, on the marine biodiversity as well as fishing and shellfish farms.”
Among those who wrote to the European Commission was Pierre Karlskind, Chair of the European Parliament’s fishing committee, who said: “We are directly and immediately concerned by the releasing of untreated sewage into the seas.”
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Since Brexit, the French representatives claimed the UK had acted to “lower its water quality standards” once separated from EU environmental laws.
However, the Environment Act 2021, which replaced such EU laws, has continued to enforce strict guidance on pollution, among other environmental concerns.
A spokesperson for the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs told the BBC: “The Environment Act has made our laws even stronger on water quality than when we were in the EU.”
The statement added: “We have also made it law for water companies to reduce the frequency and volume of discharges from storm overflows and made it law for water companies to install new monitors to report in real-time any sewage discharges in their area.”
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