Fri, Aug 06, 2004 - Page 6 News List

Storm frees sewage, kills fish in London's Thames

ADD BUBBLES The water agency has been told to use hydrogen peroxide to aerate the river, helping microbes multiply to digest the untreated sewage and dead fish

REUTERS AND THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

British environment authorities mounted a major cleanup operation on Wednesday after flooding forced hundreds of thousands of tonnes of raw sewage into the River Thames running through central London.

The Environment Agency said 600,000 tonnes of untreated sewage overflowed into the river as London's Victorian-era sewers were overwhelmed by torrential rains that brought chaos to parts of the city on Tuesday night.

"The overflow has to go somewhere, and the Thames is the natural place," a spokeswoman said.

The agency said the discharge had killed thousands of fish in the Thames, which was declared dead due to pollution in the 1960s but is now reputedly the cleanest urban river in Europe.

But environmentalists have long complained that the city's aging sewer system -- which carries both sewage and excess rainfall -- is in disrepair, outdated and increasingly unable to cope with both rising population and climate change.

When severe storms hit the city, the rainwater combines with the raw sewage and discharges directly into the Thames.

Robin Clarke, drector of waste water operations at Thames Water, which is responsible for the sewers, said in a statement that the company "deeply regretted" the fish kill and was working with the Environment Agency to respond.

Thames Water said in a statement: "With thousands of adult fish floating dead in the river there is a clear concern of the environmental impact and potential health implications. The operation may take days to manage as the tidal effect means the storm sewage will move up and down with the current."

The storms caused severe disruptions to London's subway train and bus services, and many remained suspended yesterday.

The environmental group Friends of the Earth said the storms showed just how unprepared the capital was for the extreme weather which would be brought about by climate change.

Jenny Bates, the group's London campaigns coordinator, accepted the running of sewage into the Thames was the "lesser of two evils" - preferable to letting it flood the streets.

In a report last October, the London Assembly's Public Services Committee said up to a quarter of the city's brickwork sewers -- many of which date from the 1840s -- were either leaking severely or on the verge of collapse.

The report said that even in moderate rainfall there were regular small sewage discharges into the river. These overflow dis-charges cause localized pollution problems which are usually treated by two barges known as Thames Bubblers, which aerate the polluted water and help microbes digest the sewage.

In cases of major overflows, Thames Water has been told to pour hydrogen peroxide into the water to reoxegenate it.

Forecasters warned last night that more storms were expected.

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