Diffuse UK water pollution "costing millions"

Action called for to deal with growing significance of non-point source discharges

Pollution of British freshwaters from "diffuse" sources such as agriculture, urbanisation and deposition of transport emissions is costing water supply companies "hundreds of millions of pounds" per year, according to a detailed study of the issue published today. The study's authors call for greater attention to problems caused by diffuse pollution, which they say will require actions "that are often radical or relatively untried in the UK".

Prepared by experts from the Anglo-Welsh and Scottish environmental protection agencies and independent research organisations, the report concludes that diffuse pollution and its impacts are "generally increasing" throughout the UK, both relative to point source pollution impacts and absolutely.

Key cost factors for the water industry, it says are the impact of organic wastes, faecal pathogens, nitrogen, phosphorus and chemicals on drinking water treatment costs and the impact of chemicals, faecal pathogens and oils and hydrocarbons on urban wastewater treatment costs.

In general, the problems of diffuse pollution have been under-appreciated and uncontrolled, the report says. For example, a proliferation of industrial and commercial estates has created new pollution problems. Increasing use of pharmaceutical and cosmetic products has increased levels of trace elements such as zinc in urban wastewater. And recreational activities such as golfing also contribute to the potential diffuse pollution loading to the environment.

The EU's new water framework directive is the "best opportunity to date" for these problems to be tackled, the report concludes, and in particular the scope it will give for "supplementary measures" in addition to classic regulatory approaches.

Follow Up:
Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management, tel: +44 20 78 31 31 10. Entitled "Diffuse Pollution Impacts," the report is available from Terence Dalton Publishers, tel: +44 1787 24 92 92.

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