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Case study: East London

A database published by the government in October revealed that raw sewage poured into east London rivers for thousands of hours in 2020. Analysis by the Rivers Trust of constituency data from this database show that in Ilford South – the area worst affected – untreated effluent flowed into waterways for more than 2,569 hours – equivalent to 107 days or nearly a third of the whole year. 

Dagenham, Rainham, Hornchurch, Upminster and East Ham all suffered more than a thousand hours of spillage. Poplar, Limehouse, Ilford North, and Leyton and Wanstead all suffered hundreds of hours of spillage.

When the local Ilford Recorder wrote an article on 4 November it tried to find out what Thames Water, which is responsible for most of the sewage management in London, thought about this. The company, said the paper, “did not respond to a request for comment”. 

The article pointed out that “under law, discharges of untreated effluent are only permitted in exceptional circumstances”. But as the River Trust’s Anneka France said, “A lot of these sewage overflows are discharging even when we haven’t had an extreme weather event.” 

Thames Water has been consistently breaking the law – and not being punished. Its board should be in the dock!

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