I knew from my training that pollution from sewage works happens, mainly as a result of our combined sewer systems in Scotland, where all water, whether from a toilet, a road drain or the garage roof, heads to the wastewater treatment works. When you think about the size of some of the rainstorms, we’ve had this summer, then you can understand how your local sewage works may not have enough tanks to store all that water. This means that some highly diluted, but still untreated sewage, is put straight into our rivers and burns. Gross, eh? When I tell folk this, people often ask me if this is illegal. No, our collective systems can’t cope and we simply monitor the situation, without a real plan for stopping this happening or tidying it up when it does.
What’s made this worse still, is the relatively new addition of new products for hygiene that people are told are ‘flushable’ or flush regardless. We make no secret of what we’ve pulled out of the rivers and waded around in, including items such as condoms, wet wipes, sanitary towels, tampon applicators, medication packaging and even medical equipment.
Along the Almond, we also have the problem of a form of pollution from phosphates that are not removed during the water treatment process. These chemicals are in common products that we all use such as laundry liquid, dishwater tablets and a lot of toiletries. So, treated water pumped out from sewage works are still reducing the water quality of our rivers, with an unknown impact of the river’s life.
A visit this summer to Seafield has the interesting comparison of the old sewage works, now abandoned and overgrown with a swathe of wild flowering plants, and just upstream of there a newer bigger sewage works. The river has a distinct discolouring and the smell of a laundrette – which may indicate high phosphate discharge from the sewage works.
However, we also see sewage getting into rivers from where drains have gone wrong. Examples are septic tanks being set up with soakaways connecting to drains, surface drains being misused or blocked drains overflowing.