London River Thames section is 'worst place' for sewage

Oxford and Cambridge rowing teams on the Thames
An Oxford rower told BBC Sport three team members fell ill ahead of the Boat Race [PA Media]

The London section of the River Thames is facing the brunt of sewage dumping, a clean water campaign group has claimed.

It comes after some members of the University of Oxford rowing team criticised sewage levels in the water and said some team members were sick before the annual Boat Race against the University of Cambridge.

The Henley Mermaids, a five-person campaign group who regularly swim in the waterway, have called for Thames Water to taken into public ownership.

The company said taking action to improve the health of rivers was a "key focus" with plans including the upgrade of more than 250 storm sewer discharge sites.

Laura Reineke, one of the Henley Mermaids, told BBC London: "We are still swimming in it but we are not putting our heads in and we're being very careful indeed.

"There's condoms, sanitary products, paper, there's even a toilet cassette from a boat. It's absolutely filthy, I've never seen it so filthy."

Laura Reineke
Laura Reineke said she had never seen the River Thames "so filthy" [BBC]

High levels of E. coli were found in the River Thames by Putney Bridge where the universities race every year.

Before the event, race crews were given safety advice to avoid swallowing water splashed up from the Thames.

The Oxford University Boat Club said in a statement it could not "definitively say" what caused some of its members to get sick.

James Wallace, the chief executive of River Action UK which tested the water ahead of the race, said: "E. coli does not naturally exist in rivers and can only exist at this level if it's from sewage."

The number of hours in which sewage was dumped into the River Thames have more than quadrupled in the last year, figures analysed by London City Hall in January show.

Thames Water blamed the rise on higher than average rainfall.

Joan Fennelly, a fellow Henley Mermaid, said she was "absolutely disgusted but also not surprised" about the Oxford rowers becoming unwell.

She told BBC London she had been made "really, really sick" as a result of swimming in the River Thames over recent years.

Ms Fennelly added with London facing the "cumulative effect of all of the sewage discharges" it is the "worst place that you could possibly go into the water".

Joan Fennelly
Joan Fennelly said she had been made sick by swimming in the Thames [BBC]

She said Thames Water should be brought into public ownership, particularly if it followed through on suggestions to raise bills by 40%.

A Thames Water spokesperson said: "We have experienced higher than average long-term rainfall across London and the Thames Valley with groundwater levels exceptionally high for the time of the year.

“Taking action to improve the health of rivers is a key focus for us and we want to lead the way with our transparent approach to data."

They added the company was investing heavily in infrastructure upgrades.

A government spokesperson said: “We have been clear that the sewage discharged into our waters is completely unacceptable and water companies need to clean up their act fast."

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