0% of UK rivers, lakes and estuaries meet legal water quality standards due to chemical pollution
On 17th September, the UK Environment Agency published the results of their 2019 assessment of 4,679 rivers, lakes, estuaries and other surface water bodies: 0% received good chemical status. Not one met the legal water quality standards.
How did we get here? In 2016, 97% of the surface water bodies passed the chemical pollution test. Since 2016, new substances have been added to the assessment list, such as PFOS, a chemical from the PFAS family, and new standards have been developed for substances in aquatic wildlife.
Put simply, the new assessment is more sensitive, and reveals what was under the radar before but highly suspected; that 100% of England’s rivers, lakes and waterways are polluted with synthetic chemicals related to human activity.
PFOS and brominated flame retardants (PBDEs) are synthetic chemicals that are ubiquitous in the environment. Both were phased out years ago and banned globally via the Stockholm Convention on persistent organic pollutants, yet they are still present in English rivers at levels exceeding environmental standards. This is because they are highly persistent; once they enter the environment, it takes decades for them to degrade.
Other highly persistent PFAS are still used in a plethora of consumer products, including cosmetics that are rinsed-off down the drain in the shower, contaminating rivers and oceans.
The way to reduce chemical pollution of our waterways is to ensure that hazardous chemicals are restricted in their use.
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Read more about persistent chemicals and their effects on wildlife and the environment.