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Dangerous levels of E.coli found in half of England’s 27 new bathing sites

Dangerous levels of E.coli have been found in half the 27 new bathing sites unveiled by the Conservative Government in May.

Water Minister Robbie Moore said the new swimming spots would be “incredibly valuable” and provide “social, physical and positive health and wellbeing benefits” for people around the country.

But i analysis of Environment Agency sampling data shows all of the sites have tested positive for the bacteria E.coli at some point in the past month.

And at 13 sites, the levels have been above 1,000 colonies per 100ml, the maximum level experts say it can still be considered safe to bathe in.

It comes as i launched a manifesto calling on all political parties to promise to clean up Britain’s rivers, seas and waterways before the general election.

One of the pledges is for 100 clean bathing spots to be delivered by the end of the next Parliament.

We are calling on the Environment Agency to start monitoring water quality throughout the year and take action to improve water quality at these sites.

Bathing regulations should also be altered so polluters can be prosecuted when bathing sites fail water quality tests.

The scale of the challenge has been illustrated at French Weir Park in Taunton, Somerset, where samples taken from the River Tone showed 2,700cls of E.coli on 1 May, 4,400 on 15 May and 3,800 on 28 May.

Gideon Amos, the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary candidate for Taunton and Wellington, put forward the application for the site receive bathing water status.

“We are horrified at the data about its cleanliness that’s been revealed as a result,” Mr Amos told i.

“The levels of contamination recently are shocking – so much so that we’ve now seriously warned people of the risks and what they can do to avoid them.

“While pollution levels can vary day to day, our rivers simply shouldn’t be this polluted. The Government doesn’t help by letting polluters off the hook time and again.

“The key aim of winning the new status was to reveal the state of the river and to make sure measures to improve it start being taken.

“Cleaning up the Tone is going to be a long battle but at least, thanks to the Friends group, for the first time we’ve got the information on how bad it currently is – information which was withheld from the public until now.

“It’s really encouraging how many people here care about our river and take it to their hearts.”

At two of the new bathing sites – the River Wharfe in Wetherby, West Yorkshire, and the River Stour at Friar’s Meadow, Suffolk – samples have shown E.coli levels above 10,000cls per 100ml, more than ten times the safe limit.

Linda Richards, a former Conservative councillor who led the application for the River Wharfe site, told i: “If the figures are high it shows that change is needed.

“I’ve spoken to the EA and they’ve said that after a series of tests, in September, they will give a classification for the bathing water site.

“When you test more, you find out more. I would hope that now the EA can look at this data and say ‘these are the worst sites we will deal with those’.”

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) is currently investigating an outbreak of E.coli illness thought to be linked to food.

More than 100 cases have been reported across the UK since 25 May with dozens of people having to have treatment in hospital for symptoms such as sickness and diarrhoea.

The UKHSA said there was currently no evidence linking the outbreak to open farms, drinking water or swimming in contaminated sea, lakes or rivers.

There are currently 451 designated bathing sites in England, the vast majority of which are located at beaches on the coast.

Until recently there were only three bathing spots in England’s rivers, all of which had a “poor” rating for water quality.

Campaign groups throughout the country have been fighting to increase the number of inland bathing areas, leading to 12 river spots being given the designation in May this year, bringing the total to 15.

Election 2024

Rishi Sunak and Sir Keir Starmer are on the campaign trail, and i‘s general election live blog is the go-to place for everything from party manifestos to candidate news and who could decide the election.

Sir Keir and other party leaders condemned Mr Sunak for departing from D-Day celebrations early, and the Prime Minister issued an apology. Meanwhile, i spoke to Jacob Rees-Mogg about the Tories’ chances at the election, as panic is setting in at Conservative HQ.

i also launched its Save Britain’s Rivers manifesto, urging parties to commit to five pledges to improve our waterways. Lib Dem leader Sir Ed Davey has become the first to back the campaign.

Seven representatives from the main parties battled in a general election leaders’ debate, and Katy Balls has given her verdict on who won. To catch up on the coverage, read our debate live blog.

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