'Overflow sewage discharges into sea are a risk to health'
SURFERS and bathers could face "quite severe" health risks after heavy rain caused a sewage spill to create high levels of pollution in the sea at Godrevy, an anti-pollution charity has warned.
Surfers Against Sewage (SAS) said it was concerned after last week's downpour saw large clouds of brown sewage from combined sewer overflows (CSOs) spilling into the Red River leading to Godrevy and St Ives Bay.
The beaches at Godrevy and Gwithian – which are popular with surfers and holidaymakers – were closed due to water quality last week. Godrevy was red-flagged for a day, while Gwithian was open for a period in the afternoon of August 5 but closed at 4pm.
The amount of sewage in the water at the spot prompted SAS to send more than 5,500 text alerts warning users about the potential health risks.
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SAS campaigns director Andy Cummins said the effects of water contamination were evident among regular water users, with some showing symptoms ranging from stomach upsets and skin allergies to more serious viruses.
"Speaking to one of the surfers who has contracted hepatitis E, he told us his specialist said the most likely cause of exposure ... was the CSOs discharging untreated human sewage into the Red River leading to Godrevy and St Ives Bay," he said.
"It's not a one-off. We are seeing these discharges on this beach and others like it."
SAS's warning comes at the busiest time of the year when the beaches are most used by visitors, but tourism bosses say they are confident it will not damage the local economy.
Malcolm Bell, the head of VisitCornwall, insisted that the sewage overflow at Godrevy beach would have a "minimal impact" on tourism in west Cornwall.
"I wouldn't say it's not a problem; no one wants that in the height of the summer. It could well affect someone coming back to that beach: but it has more of an impact on small businesses at the beach, not tourism as a whole," he said.
Currently the Beach Live system is in operation, based on information gathered by South West Water (SWW) and the Environment Agency about the amount of polluted water released during heavy rain. Mr Bell said: "On the rare occasions that it does happen, we will be responsible. We will warn people and we will close beaches."
A spokeswoman for SWW said the CSOs operated as they were designed to in accordance with their permits.
"CSOs are overflow pipes legally allowed to operate at times of heavy rainfall to reduce the risk of sewers flooding people's homes," she said.