Scots bathing at one of the country’s most popular beaches could be at risk of “dangerously high” levels of E.coli, worrying new research has found.
Surfers Against Sewage has carried out its own testing of water quality in Portobello, Edinburgh - where it says sewage overflows aren’t monitored whatsoever by the authorities.
It cautioned beachgoers at Portobello, which receives thousands of visitors a year, that they could be unknowingly bathing in sewage.
UK-wide, the campaign group said wild swimmers getting sick from contaminated water has tripled - to nearly 2000 cases in the last year.
In its annual water quality report, SAS warned Scotland has a sewage dumping “blind spot” - with no reporting of overflow pipes at beloved beaches like Portobello or surfing hotspot Thurso in Caithness.
Just four per cent of Scotland’s sewage overflows are monitored - compared to nearly 100 per cent in England and Wales - which the group said leaves Scots “in the dark”.
It found sewage has been discharged nearly 60,000 times in the last five years into Scottish waters that we know of - but the figure may actually run into “the hundreds of thousands”.
A local Portobello group attached to SAS, the Porty Water Collective, routinely tests water quality around several Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs) which bring sewage downstream into the sea via the Figgate Burn - known locally as the ‘Figgy Burn’.
Founding member and resident Charlie Allanson-Oddy said: “It's obvious from walking the beaches, from the number of baby wipes, that there is a massive sewage-related problem - something that is ignored by SEPA and Scottish Water.
“What we know - from testing conducted in 2021, and now from the Collective’s current water quality testing backed by SAS - is that there are dangerously high levels of E. coli and chloroforms in the Figgy Burn from CSOs further upstream.
“Not all the locals know this.”
Sicknesses due to sewage pollution reported to SAS reached 1924 cases in the UK in the last year, with some leading to hospitalisations.
Thurso surfer Finn MacDonald, who runs North Coast Water Sports with his partner Iona, said: “I’ve had surfs where I’ve come out feeling really ill - I’ve had itchy skin, it’s not been very pleasant…
“It would be a much nicer experience to be able to surf without being terrified that you’re going to be spewing later on.”
We told earlier this year how sewage was pumped into Scottish waterways a record 14,000 times in 2022 - with enough wastewater to fill 19,000 Olympic pools.
Giles Bristow, CEO of Surfers Against Sewage, said: “How much do our blue spaces need to suffocate in sewage before those we elect to keep us safe and protect our environment wake up and smell the s**t?”
A Scottish Water spokesman said: "The status of 87 per cent of water bodies in Scotland have been classified as good or better status for water quality by SEPA and our continued investment - £2.7billion in the past decade with an additional £500million to improve monitoring and infrastructure - will help meet even higher standards."
He added: "We remain on track to install 1000 new monitors at discharge locations, with a further 1200 monitors being placed elsewhere."
Nathan Critchlow-Watton of SEPA added: "This year, Scotland also has a record-breaking number of bathing waters rated as ‘excellent’."
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