Cornwall’s closed beaches are overflowing with raw sewage

Watch out there’s a turd about

| UPDATED national

Unlucky swimmers and surfers are getting sick because of live sewage in the sea. 

Cornwall’s treatment plants have, not for the first time, overflowed, leaving beach-goers surrounded by human faeces – turning the sea water brown.

Beach-rat Tom Naylor said: “Last year I went surfing there and got sinusitis from the sewage.”

The holiday destination, regularly visited by David Cameron and his family, is feeling the crappy consequences of a housing increase.

The building of more houses has led to sewage overflowing at least five times in the last four weeks, and poses health risks to locals and holidaymakers.

Brown flag

Swimming in the sea could lead to doses of gastroenteritis or hepatitis, along with skin, ear and eye infections.

Local GP Dr Phil Dommett said: “As a GP I treat a significant number of infections, such as gastroenteritis, which appear to be directly related to sea bathing.

“In certain conditions, increased organic matter in sewage pitfalls allows a significant increase in pathogenic microbes and these can cause the infections I regularly encounter in my work.”

Tom Naylor is someone who has experienced such illness.

“It’s been particularly bad in the Godrevy and Gwithian area,” he said.

“Last year I went surfing there and got sinusitis from the sewage.

“I was ill for weeks and don’t want a repeat of that.”

Having regularly made use of the local beaches over an extended period of time, Tom is able to recognise a broader pattern.

He said: “At times there is so much sewage that you can clearly see and smell it.

“More importantly something needs to be done about the problem in the first place.

“The plans to build more houses have been in place for a while now, so with a small amount of forward planning by South West Water the problem may not be so severe.

“Hopefully, if they do end up doing something about it, so the fix isn’t just a short term one.”

Tom in action

But South West Water has no intention of changing the outdated system.

The stubborn utilities provider believes the cost of updating and improving are not worth the potential benefits.

A spokesperson for South West Water said: “During heavy rain, the “overflow” system operates in order to prevent homes, roads and businesses being flooded with sewage.

“The impact of this heavily diluted water is shortlived.

“To change the current system would require the vast majority of houses in the region to be replumbed.

“Roads would be dug up and there would be a significant increase in water bills.

“Our free BeachLive real-time information service allows people to make informed choices about whether to enter the sea during or shortly after heavy rain.

“We provide the data free of charge.”

Credit: Mike Newman

The sewage also has a damaging impact upon Cornwall’s shellfish industry, and consequently local businesses.

Local icon Matt Vernon, who currently works at 7th Rise, is a former fisherman who specialised in free diving for fishermen.

Having supplied local restaurants, as well as Michelin Star establishments in London, with his produce, one wonders what led Matt to change his profession.

“In early 2014 the River Fal was predicted to be closed for shellfish for 12 months, in the end it was closed for around six to eight months.

“Around a dozen other estuaries faced the same problem.

“The closures were my main reason for quitting, despite claims from top chefs that my mussels were the best in the business.”

Matt, like Tom, also recognises that the problem facing Cornwall’s seaside is not a singluar freak event.

“The sewage incidents are far reaching and have been going on for a couple of years.

“The impact will continue until the water industry upgrades to meet the challenges of climate change.

“We have antiquated systems in place to deal with sewage.

“An increase in housing, tarmac roads, driveways and such means more rain running into the drains, less naturally soaking into the ground water.

“Throw in the mix climate change induced rainfall and you have an exponential problem that isn’t being met by the water companies.”

Matt during his free diving days, pictured left

Fortunately, there are systems within the shellfish industry aimed at preventing food pollution – although Matt believes they too need updating.

“Every time there is a sewage incident the Grade A/B waters are downgraded to a temporary Grade C, where no harvesting allowed.”

“The samples are checked for E. coli levels weekly.

“The system of testing needs to be brought up to date, once a week sampling is not enough.”

“There needs to be open communication between everyone involved and affected.

“South West Water and the Council also need to invest in larger sewage plants due to the increase in housing.”

Another local businessman, Malcolm MacKinnon, lives within a mile of a sewage treatment plant.

This year a man hole cover was blown off because of increased  sewage back pressure – exploding everywhere.

“It smelt horrible.”

The overflows have managed to permeate every aspect of Cornwall’s culture.

Kernow King is a Cornish activist, as well as a comedian, who has lived in the area for over 20 years.

Kernow said: “Swimming in our piss and shit is never going to be good.

“Having to close beaches due to pollution is not only something I find utterly tragic, I also find it very embarrassing.”

Having a shit time

Growing up in the late 80s Kernow has dealt with a very wide variety of floating detritus.

“I grew up surfing and, right through to the present day, it would often be pretty grim – sanitary towels, condoms and nappies.

“Thanks to the incredible work of Surfers Against Sewage and some good investment from South West Waters, for most of my lifetime the water quality has been very, very good.

“More often than not, it was what you couldn’t see floating in the water, all the bugs and bacterias that found their way down your ears and up your nose which caused my friends and I the most problems.

“But SWW now need to start to reinvest their millions and millions of pounds worth of profit to ensure our seas aren’t continually polluted.”

You can sign a petition, calling for the protection of Britain’s coastline from sewage, litter and offshore development here.