Surfer says she fell ill after swimming in sewage at Welsh beach

Reporter Gwennan Campbell speaks to a West Wales surfer and MP about sewage pollution

A Pembrokeshire surfer who says she fell ill after swimming in contaminated water has called for action to tackle sewage pollution.

In late October Shona Oldrid travelled to Borth in Ceredigion and returned home with a bacterial viral infection which she believes was the result of surfing in sewage.

She told ITV Cymru Wales’s Sharp End programme: “I wasn’t in the water very long and within two days afterwards I was the illest I’ve ever been. So I had three weeks of severe vomit and diarrhoea. I just felt so tired.”

Doctors said Shona's illness was probably caused by exposure to contaminated water. Credit: Sharp End

On the day in question she moved from one end of the beach to the other and noticed a distinctive smell while riding the waves. After falling from her board she could taste sewage and instantly knew she was swimming in human waste.

Doctors said her illness was probably caused by exposure to contaminated water.

The incident has had a lasting impact on the aspiring surf instructor, who admits she was put off getting back in the sea by her sickness.

“You see the waves, you want to get on them. If there’s poo going in that water you don’t want to go in.”

She added: “It made me feel really frustrated, angry, disgusted that it’s happening in our waters to that severity.”

There were more than 80,000 sewage overflows in Wales last year, resulting in sewage getting released into Welsh seas and rivers for more than 500,000 hours.

Shona is now calling for action to tackle the problem.

“What can we do about this? We shouldn’t be stopping people from going into the sea, we should be stopping people from getting ill from going in the sea.

“I know something needs to be done for our seas, for our wildlife, for our livelihoods, for the tourism in Pembrokeshire.”

Welsh Affairs Committee Chair Stephen Crabb MP has raised concerns about the levels of pollution in Welsh waterways. Credit: Sharp End

Shona’s calls come just weeks after the chair of the Welsh Affairs Committee, Stephen Crabb MP wrote to the Welsh Climate Change Minister, Julie James MS, raising concerns about the levels of pollution in Welsh waterways and the perceived deficiencies in monitoring.

Speaking to Sharp End, Mr Crabb said: “Wales is one of the parts of the UK worst affected by sewage discharges and here in West Wales, in Pembrokeshire, that’s one of the very worst places in the whole country.

“People locally and all across the country don’t want to put up with the traditional practices of sewage being pumped into open water any more.”

A Welsh Government spokesperson said it has made its expectations and priorities for the water industry clear in its Strategic Priorities and Objectives Statement, and supports the water company regulators, and other bodies to monitor performance.

Welsh beaches have a generally excellent reputation for cleanliness and 99% of monitored bathing areas across the country meet the required standard. But sewage overflows remain a deeply unpleasant phenomenon for those unlucky enough to be in the water when they happen.

Natural Resources Wales, which monitors water quality, said 85 of the 106 locations they assess are deemed to be of the highest standard. However they also noted that they share the public's concern surrounding discharges, and are calling for action to prevent them from causing environmental harm.

The process of releasing sewage into rivers and seas usually occurs when sewers fill up too quickly for the water to be treated, meaning there is a risk of raw sewage being forced back into people’s homes. The alternative usually involves releasing it into open water.

But this can have a damaging impact on ecosystems and on the enjoyment and health of people who use those waters recreationally.

Dwr Cymru, which is responsible for managing water across most of Wales, says it faces a number of challenges due to the Welsh climate and an ageing infrastructure.

Steve Wilson, the organisation’s Director of Wastewater Management said: “It’s a combination of an old sewer network, combined with high rainfall but we’re doing a lot now to try to get on top of that.

“We’ve put in 2,300 monitors so we understand now how often they’re operating. We’re doing biological surveys, understanding the water quality impact of those and we’re starting to tackle those creating the most impact first.”

He added: “It’s going to take a long time to re-engineer and re-plumb our drainage network. In the meantime what we can do is give warnings.”

Dwr Cymru encourages the public to use the Safer Seas and Rivers app to find out if there has been a recent sewage overflow at their local beach.

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