Many Yorkshire rivers are to be analysed for levels of chemical pollution in a new £1.2mn study. The rivers Aire, Calder, Derwent, Don, Nidd, Ouse, Swale, Ure and Wharfe will all be investigated over the course of the research for chemical pollution and biodiversity loss.
Research study into chemical pollution in Yorkshire rivers
Professor Alistair Boxall, who is leading the research from the University of York, told Yorkshire Bylines that although there had been previous monitoring of some chemical pollutants in the river catchments by the Environment Agency, Yorkshire Water and the University of York, this new work will be studying many chemicals of concern that have not been studied before. The research will generate information at a temporal and spatial resolution never done before.
He commented that the impact of climate change would be a factor in this study: “We will also be developing and applying models to forecast the chemical pollution profiles in the future accounting for things like changes in chemical use and river flows due to climate change.”
Professor Boxall indicated that the project will run for four years and that the aim would be to publish key results as they become available, with the first hopefully available in approximately a year and a half to two years’ time. He told me that chemicals of actual concern would be the primary focus: “We are planning to focus on chemicals of actual concern in the catchment. We expect this will include metals, pesticides, veterinary medicines, personal care and home use chemicals and pharmaceuticals.”
Impact on biodiversity
Through a press release from the University of York, Professor Boxall highlighted the threat to biodiversity and ecosystems:
“We are facing a global biodiversity crisis and the quality of freshwater ecosystems is declining more rapidly than either terrestrial or marine systems.
“One in ten freshwater and wetland species in England are threatened with extinction and two thirds of existing species are in decline. Regulatory data suggest that chemical pollution from wastewater discharges, transport, urban environments, agriculture and mining all contribute to failures against existing quality standards.”
A report published this year from the Environment Audit Committee concluded that, “Not a single river in England has received a clean bill of health for chemical contamination” and that “only 14% of English rivers meet good ecological status, with pollution from agriculture, sewage, roads and single-use plastics contributing to a dangerous ‘chemical cocktail’ coursing through our waterways”.
Therefore, if not one single river is clear of chemical contamination, this level of research from the University of York is essential to determining what the levels of pollution are and what harms are posed to biodiversity.
2063 for surface waters to reach ‘good health’
As the ENDS report noted this week:
“Defra’s draft river management plans, published last month, reveals that ‘chemical objective/potential’ for all surface waters to reach good health is now stated to be 2063.
“Bans and restrictions at the national and international level are in place for the [PBDEs] but Defra says that for some it ‘will take many decades for the substance to naturally drop to the required levels’ and that for others there is ‘currently no feasible technical solution to remove these chemicals once they are present’.”
The national picture?
Once levels of chemical pollution are discovered, a determination will have to be made about whose responsibility this is to solve and mitigate. In the past week, we have seen water companies attempting to blame the UK Government for levels of sewage pollution, rather than implement strategies.
Campaigner Feargal Sharkey drew attention to the fact that financial penalties are not encouraging water companies to behave responsibly, when he commented caustically on Twitter: “So while the CEO of @AnglianWater is writing angry letters to @DefraGovUK about wet wipes & ‘sustainable growth’, 5 months after paying £92 million to shareholders, they get fined £536,000 for dumping millions of litres of sewage onto a local river. Is someone having a laugh?”
With sewage pollution still ongoing, despite the beleaguered Defra following up with penalties where they can, there appears to be little hope that effective implementation of any mitigation methods to reduce chemical pollution could be forthcoming.
I posed this to Professor Boxall, who commented that involving partners from the water industry, chemical industry and regulatory, policy sector from the start would lead to positive outcomes. “We hope that by engaging end users in this way, we will be able to ensure the project has impact. We also plan to develop a toolkit so that the findings can be applied in the future to other catchments in the UK.”