Truths about our sewers

Posted: Friday 27th April 2007

Many potentially harmful chemicals and substances used on a day to day basis both in the home and by businesses find their way down drains and into our sewers.

The pressures and convenience of modern life like the products we use at home, the fats and oils used in the food and food service sector, and the way we build and use roads, have greatly increased the burden on the sewerage system.

Urban diffuse pollution, the chemicals and materials that end up in our water environment, is important now and will become more so as we tackle the effects of climate change.

Speaking on urban diffuse pollution at an industry meeting earlier this month, Pamela Taylor, Chief Executive of WaterUK, said:

“Most of the sources (of urban diffuse pollution) are incredibly mundane. In fact being mundane is their main characteristic – which is why the problems they cause are so difficult. There are the materials we build our houses with – the lead, plastic, copper and galvanised iron that release harmful substances to sewers and drains. There are the materials we use in our homes in every aspect of everyday life – the furniture fillings, detergents, cleaners, personal care products and even medicines. They’re all chemicals we either put down the drain directly or through washing clothes.

“To make progress we have to accept some hard truths. One is the idea that’s been around forever that rain water that runs off roads, roofs and hard surfaces is clean enough to be piped into the nearest water course. We now know that this is false. In fact surface water sewers may indeed discharge polluted water into streams and rivers, even in dry weather.”

Among the most common potentially harmful substances in everyday use are: washing detergents (both the clothes and dishwashing varieties) that contain phosphates; zinc from shampoos and sun creams; and mercury from dentists and crematoria. Addressing the sources of these substances and limiting their use will lead to a cleaner environment.

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February 2021

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