An MP has called for a crack down on water companies as he revealed his son became sick after swimming in a river.
Richard Foord claimed his son contracted gastroenteritis after swimming in the River Culm in Devon.
The Lib Dem MP has called on the government to take action on water companies polluting rivers, describing it as an “environmental scandal”.
He made the comments after a new report found water companies had released raw sewage into UK rivers and seas almost 150 times during dry weather – despite being told to do so only when there is heavy rainfall.
Foord won the Tiverton and Honiton seat earlier this year, overturning the former Tory MP Neil Parish’s 24,239 majority after he was embroiled in a porn scandal.
.@sascampaigns new report reveals the scale of illegal sewage dumps from negligent water companies.
With my son becoming ill after swimming in a local river, this is personal for me.
Today I raised the report in Parliament and called for a debate on how we stop this behaviour. pic.twitter.com/xVoSn680pz
— Richard Foord MP (@RichardFoordLD) November 24, 2022
He told the Commons: “My own son was ill after entering the water earlier in the summer and came down with a spell of gastroenteritis as did his friend.
“So I’ve got some personal experience of this and thanks to this report today we now know that the South West Water which covers the Tiverton and Honiton constituency is one of the worst offenders.
“Will the leader of the house make time available so that honourable members from across the house can discuss findings in relation to dry spills?”
Leader of the house Penny Mordaunt said she was “very sorry” to hear Foord’s son had become ill.
She said she would ask the department for environment food and rural affairs [defra] to write to him, adding: “It is absolutely vital - and this government is committed and through the Environment Act and other work that Defra has done - to ensure that both genuine storm overflows are reduced but also that we are monitoring what water companies are doing.”
The Surfers Against Sewage [SAS] water quality report, released on Thursday, uncovered evidence of people becoming sick from swimming in water polluted by sewage.
The spills are supposed to occur only during times of exceptional rainfall to help the sewage network cope, with releases at other times a potential breach of water firms’ permits.
Some 95 of the dry spills were at locations where water quality was classified as “excellent”, making “a mockery of the categorisation system for designated bathing waters in the UK”, the SAS report said.
Southern Water was responsible for four times as many dry spills as the next worst offender, South West Water, SAS said.
There has been growing public outrage in recent years at the volume of raw or partially treated sewage pumped into the UK’s rivers and coastal waters.
Amy Slack from SAS said: “Over the last year, the UK public has made clear their disgust at what’s happening to our rivers and seas, and yet water companies continue to pollute at will.”
A South West Water spokesperson said they had been working hard to reduce the impact of storm overflows, but they “recognise there is more to do”.
They added: “This year, for the first time, 100 per cent of the classified bathing waters in the South West passed stringent standards, with 98 per cent rated as or ‘Good’ or ‘Excellent’, compared to 28 per cent in 1991.”
A Southern Water spokesman said they were investing £2 billion to improve environmental performance while a Water UK spokesman said companies agree there is an “urgent need” to tackle storm overflows.
A Defra spokesperson said: “Our storm overflows discharge reduction plan has brought in strict targets on sewage pollution and will require water companies to deliver the largest infrastructure programme in their history to tackle storm sewage discharges – a £56 billion capital investment over 25 years.
“We have been clear that water companies cannot profit from environmental damage. Through increased monitoring and transparency, driven by government, the regulators have launched the largest criminal and civil investigations into water company sewage treatment works ever.
“Regulators will use all options for robust enforcement action and will continue to prioritise action to protect bathing waters and high priority nature sites.”
HuffPost UK contacted South West Water for comment.