Home » News/Views » Sewage swamps triathlon

Sewage swamps triathlon

Triathletes swimming in open water. Photo Gena Melendrez/shutterstock.com.

After a recent triathlon in Sunderland, 88 people have now reported suffering from diarrhoea and vomiting. The swimming leg of the event, the British leg of the World Triathlon Championship Series, took place in the sea off Roker beach.

After competitors complained that they were swimming in faeces, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) have found 19 of 31 water samples submitted showed norovirus. 

Environment Agency testing showed E. coli levels 39 times the typical range in samples taken at the end of July. The organisers have written to all competitors to advise them to seek medical advice if they experience any symptoms. 


Water companies have tried to excuse the poor quality of water in Britain’s rivers and seas by blaming the Victorian sewer system which they inherited at privatisation, a justification repeated by the minister responsible, Therese Coffey.

But the campaigning group Windrush Against Sewage Pollution commissioned research from Professor Peter Hammond, former professor of computational biology at University College London.

Hammond found that less than 12 per cent of Britain’s sewers were constructed in the Victorian era. Even for that 12 per cent, he found no correlation between the spill rate and the proportion of Victorian sewers. 

Spending on wastewater infrastructure has fallen, even as the population has grown, according to Ofwat. Since water was privatised in 1989, with debts written off, water companies, over 70 per cent of which are foreign-owned, have paid out more than £70 billion in dividends. 

• See also feature article "Muck and money"