Nature with Nik Mitchell: Pollutants in our waters

Pollutants going into our waterways Photo Nik Mitchell

Thanet nature expert Nik Mitchell runs the Wildlife Conservation in Thanet page on facebook

The dumping of raw sewage is something that heavily affects us all and the wider environment. Yes, the dumping of sewage is still happening.

With the up-coming Thanet district elections on May 4th I’d suggest it is worth looking out for candidates that want to protect our environment.

I wanted to take the time to show you that it’s not just our poop that’s still entering our seas and rivers -it also contains other very damaging “overlooked” pollutants.

Heavily polluted road run off

When it rains on our roads (and the increasing number of driveways) the rain is washed into the combined sewage system and often it has a direct discharge to a local stream or straight to the sea, with no pollution control devices at all.

The road runoff contains a cocktail of pollutants such as toxic hydrocarbons, pollutants from oil spills, tyre and brake wear of vehicles (one of the biggest contributors to microplastic in our waters is from car tyres). Runoff can carry over 300 different pollutants which can cause damage both in the short and longer term.

A lot of that roadside litter ends up in our waters that way too, we even have whole cats eyes (road studs) washing up. With all the developing happening in Thanet this is set to get a lot worse.

This heavily polluted road run-off is possibly more threatening to the environment than what goes down our toilet.


Have you noticed on those bottles kept under your sink the “COSHH” symbols that state how the products are corrosive and dangerous to the environment? Yep, that’s going straight into the environment unfiltered.

Plastic sanitary products

On our coastal litter pics we find thousands upon thousands of earbuds, sanitary towels, floss harps, tampon applicators, plasters, pill packets, condom wrappers, baby wipes, even false teeth and much more is regularly washing up on our beaches. We know that most plastics take well over 500 years to break down and become equally dangerous microplastics in our waters.

It is harmful to our wildlife in so many ways in particularly ingestion and entanglement. It’s caring members of the community that pick it off the beach not Southern Water!

Pollution in our waters is “out of sight out of mind” but it is a real problem and we should be putting a stop to it. Is happening and it’s happening in the name of pure profit.

  • In 2022, raw sewage was pumped into rivers and seas for 1.75 million hours last year – on average 825 times per day
  • The Environment Agency found that 90% of sewage monitors were broken
  • There was recently £235 million in cuts to environmental funding. That included a £24 million cut to monitoring services (since those cuts raw sewage spills have doubled)
  • And it’s worth mentioning that our South Thanet MP Craig Mackinlay voted for a ‘compromise’ Environment Bill stripping out seven crucial lines from the Duke of Wellington’s House of Lords amendment before passing it. I, and many others, have criticised this watering down of the amendment for allowing sewage dumping to continue for another 15 years.
  • Today, after 12.30pm, has been set aside for opposition day debates – Commons debates on a Labour motion. Labour has tabled a motion that would allow it to take control of Commons business one day next month to pass a water quality (sewage discharge) bill.


  1. Terribly simple issue : take water back into public ownership or allow continued pollution and rich shareholders running off with our money!

  2. Michael Gove has converted to ‘locally led’ Local Plans and his 25 Year Green Plan has now been followed up with an Environmental Improvement Plan – one would rather have expected candidates to have made much of ‘bottom up’ rethinking of the district’s needs based on capacities – not least water supply (no signs of reservoirs or desalination plants for at least 20 years). I understand that there is now an All Party Climate Action Advisory Group which is supposed to meet every two months and no doubt it will be hitting the ground hard from 5 May ? Already 50+ local authorities have either ditched or paused the ‘top down’ housing targets – it is unclear where Thanet stands. There was enough outcry of a 12,000 ‘allocation’ (regardless of infrastructure and local need).

  3. Worth noting that it’s already illegal for water companies to release storm overflow water except in ‘exceptional circumstances’. Water companies could be fined every time. The reason they’re not is due to this government stripping down the Environment Agency so that it no longer has the manpower or resources to do anything about the problem, and supine MPs like our local Mackinlay who think it’s more important to pander to (foreign) businesses than support his electorate.

  4. Since water was privatised its been reported £60 Billion (some say £70 Billion) has been paid to shareholders, instead of being invested to modernise the mostly Victorian sewage disposal system! Many of the shareholders bank off shore to avoid tax, some are foreign, like the Chinese who own 3 water companies believe! Re- nationalise now, water is far too important to be left to the vagaries of the free market, and the likes of Mackinlay the chocolate MP for South Thanet who is such an advocate for it!

  5. This is a really simple approach and one I wish more environmentalists would take. Problems that can be easily resolved with a small amount of effort from us all. Thank you

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