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Leaked documents reveal water company's actions after major disaster: 'The same thing keeps happening here'

"If these incidents are reported late, then it stops us witnessing the pollution and collecting evidence."

"If these incidents are reported late, then it stops us witnessing the pollution and collecting evidence."

Photo Credit: iStock

After researchers declared 2023 the hottest year on record, many are looking to beat the heat this summer. However, sometimes being near the water is not the best choice. 

What's happening?

A report by BBC News calls out untreated sewage being pumped illegally into one of England's most popular lakes, Windermere, not more than two years after a similar incident occurred in the same area. 

The lake endured millions of liters (hundreds of thousands of gallons) of raw sewage being pumped into it after the British water company United Utilities failed to stop the pollution as soon as it occurred, according to the news outlet.

While a pumping station normally transmits sewage to Windermere Wastewater Treatment Works, documents highlight a telecommunications fault that stopped the main pumps. This alerted emergency pumps to send the untreated sewage into the middle of the lake. 

Without rain or snowmelt for justification, the pumping into Windermere is classified as illegal. 

United Utilities insiders shared with the BBC that the emergency pumps went on for six hours, unloading more than 10 million liters (about 2.6 million gallons) in Windermere. 

It wasn't until a company engineer arrived, nearly 10 hours after the incident started, and shut off the pumping station that the pollution finally stopped. 

"Time and time again the same thing keeps happening here in Windermere: United Utilities pollutes the lake, and the Environment Agency turns a blind eye to it," Matt Staniek of Save Windermere told BBC News.

Why is pumping sewage illegally concerning?

When it comes to irresponsible corporate policies, acting fast and with transparency is critical to resolving any planet-harming business practice

"If these incidents are reported late, then it stops us witnessing the pollution and collecting evidence," an insider at the Environment Agency said, per the BBC.

Despite United Utilities claiming they responded quickly and took water samples to test pollution, this was done hours after the pollution stopped. At this point, the pollution had reached the shore of the lake. These practices don't provide full closure on what can be done to resolve a public health concern

The Environment Agency deemed the incident as "minor" and issued a "site warning" three weeks after the sewage pollution occurred. This can downplay the potential long-term effects for communities whose residents might enter the lake or surrounding area when it's not entirely safe yet

Water pollution can increase harmful algal blooms and eutrophication, damaging water quality. According to Lake Scientist, industrial runoff can contain heavy metals, such as lead and mercury, which enter the food chain and can damage human health

What's being done about it? 

The U.K.'s Plan for Water tackles every source of pollution including storm overflows, plastics, and road runoff, in addition to dealing with drier summers. 

Everyday acts such as picking up litter and composting food or yard waste can ensure our waterways stay cleaner and our water itself pure. 

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