App gives surfers pollution alerts
Saturday 24th August 2013, 12:10AM BST.
A new app which gives bathers and surfers real-time warnings about pollution incidents on popular beaches has been launched.
The alert service allows beach users to find out about discharges of untreated sewage and storm water at almost 250 of the nation’s favourite beaches, Surfers Against Sewage (SAS) said.
The free app has been developed by SAS in response to concerns about the rising number of sewage spills at UK beaches and surfing spots during the May to September bathing season, which can cause illnesses for beach-goers.
Last year’s washout summer led to a rise in UK beaches failing to meet minimum standards for water quality, while the number of bathing spots which met the highest levels for cleanliness fell.
The app accesses real-time data from water companies on combined sewer overflows, which allow untreated sewage and storm water into the sea in periods of heavy rain to prevent sewers backing up, and can cause short-term pollution incidents.
The service, funded by the Environment Agency, sends out alerts to users when pollution reaches dangerous levels and the information is posted online. Non-smartphone users can sign up for free text messages.
SAS hopes alert service will help beach users bathe at their favourite spots safely, without getting illness such as stomach bugs, skin, ear, eye or chest infections and sore throats and even hepatitis.
The app allows bathers to send a “must try harder” message to the water company when a combined sewer overflow is discharging too frequently, and report pollution incidents they witness to the Environment Agency’s hotline.
App users are being encouraged to complete sickness reporting forms with any details of illness contracted, while there is also information on responsibly disposing of sanitary items and kitchen waste to prevent sewer blockages and pollution.
The app also has links to surf reports and the Environment Agency’s full bathing water profiles.
The sewage alert service was tested on three beaches in Cornwall, and a survey conducted by the Environment Department (Defra) found that 94% of people who received information about short term spills took action to avoid them.
The small scale poll of 591 people also found that 87% of those who responded accessed information about spills from SAS before they arrived at the beach, and the same number wanted information on pollution and found it useful.
Surfers Against Sewage campaign director Andy Cummins said: “The sewage alert service app informs surfers and beach users of a short-term sewage discharge in real time.
“This truly is an innovative concept, achieved thanks to years of campaigning against secretive combine sewer overflow sewage discharges from water companies.
“Now surfers and water users are best placed to make informed decisions about how, when and where they use the sea.”
The app has been backed by British and international champion surfer Ben Skinner, who said: “Nobody wants to unwittingly surf in sewage because the health risks range from the uncomfortable ear, nose and throat infections to much more serious health risks, and that’s why I use the sewage alert service app to help me choose where to surf and you should too.”
Environment minister Richard Benyon said: “This innovative app will make it much easier for people to find real-time information on water quality and make well-informed choices about where to swim.”
- To download the app for smartphones or sign up for text message alerts, go to www.sas.org.uk