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Environment

Every Single English River, Stream, and Lake Just Failed a Pollution Test

Why Global Citizens Should Care
The UN’s Global Goal 6 calls for action to ensure clean water and sanitation. That means greater care must be taken, in the UK and around the world, to stop pollutants such as chemical waste ending up in rivers. However, new analysis has found that progress in England is stalling. Take action and find out more about this and other issues, here.

Every single waterway in England has failed chemical pollution standards, according to analysis released on Thursday by the Environment Agency — a UK public body that works towards sustainable development. 

The agency regularly monitors the quality of rivers, streams, and lakes across the country, and has a target of at least 75% of waterways achieving a “good” rating by 2027 — a goal that currently looks far from being met.

In fact, results suggest progress has stalled, or is even getting worse, with industrial sewage and farming chemicals identified as key problems, news reports said.

English waterways are assessed both in terms of whether they reach an ecological standard high enough for wildlife to flourish, and separately on whether they pass certain chemical standards, based on the levels of chemical traces found in them.

The last time the Environment Agency’s assessments were published in 2016, 16% of waterways were rated as “good” ecologically, compared to 14% this year.

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Meanwhile, stricter standards used to assess chemical pollution levels mean that there has been a dramatic change in what shows up as chemical pollution. Although 97% of rivers passed chemical tests in 2016, those new standards mean that none passed the tests now, the reports explain.

The stricter tests, brought in by the European Union, show up traces of long-banned pollutants such as polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) in fish, whereas previously only the water itself was being tested.

Emma Howard Boyd, the chief executive of the Environment Agency, told the BBC: "Water quality has plateaued since 2016. It isn't good enough."

“Today just 14% of our rivers are [rated good]. To get where we want to be everyone needs to improve how they use water now and that means water companies, farmers, and the public,” she added.

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Sewage wastewater discharged by water companies into rivers account for damage to 36% of waterways, while discharges from agricultural industries are responsible for 40% of damage to waterways, according to the agency.

In response to the shocking results, the environment minister Rebecca Pow said the data was “not comfortable reading.” 

She added in a statement to the BBC: "We are absolutely committed to achieving the water quality ambitions to improve at least three-quarters of our waters to be as close to their natural state as soon as possible."