Ministers 'broke the law' by failing to stop water bosses dumping sewage in rivers, watchdog claims | The Sun

Ministers 'broke the law' by failing to stop water chiefs dumping sewage in rivers, Britain's environment watchdog claimed today.

The Office for Environmental Protection said regulators, including Ofwat and the Environment Agency, may have breached the law by allowing companies to release sewage outside of exceptional circumstances.

Sewage overflows are only supposed to be permitted after periods of unusually heavy rain.

But there are concerns possibly hundreds of illegal dry sewage spills continue to take place in England.

Last year sewage releases took place 825 times each day.

The filthy water can harm wildlife and damage local ecosystems.

It can also produce E. coli, which may trigger diarrhoea, stomach cramps and fevers.

Helen Venn, chief regulatory officer of the OEP, said: "The guidance provided by Government to regulators, and the permitting regime they put in place for the water companies, possibly allow untreated sewage discharges to occur more regularly than intended by the law without risk of sanction.

"This is what has created the possible failures to comply that we have identified."

Responding to accusations of law-breaking, a spokesperson for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) said: "The volume of sewage discharged is completely unacceptable.

"That is why we are the first government in history to take such comprehensive action to tackle it, driving forward more investment, stronger regulation and tougher enforcement – and it's why we are introducing a legally binding target to reduce storm overflows.

"While we do not agree with the OEP's initial interpretations, which cover points of law spanning over two decades, we will continue to work constructively with the OEP on this issue."

Steve Reed, Labour’s Shadow Environment Secretary, hit out at ministers, accusing them of conjuring up Britain's sewage "scandal".

He accused Rishi Sunak of being "happy" to let human excrement pollute waterways – but not his private swimming pool.

Mr Reed said: “Nothing represents 13 years of Conservative failure more graphically than the sight of stinking, toxic sewage pouring into our rivers, lakes, and seas.

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“This scandal is the Conservatives’ fault. They cut back enforcement and monitoring of the water companies releasing this filth and are now failing to prosecute them when they are blatantly breaking the law.

“In government, Labour will introduce automatic fines for sewage discharges, hold water bosses accountable for their negligence and bring in strict mandatory monitoring of outlets to make sure this never happens again.”

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