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Sudbury protest march to highlight poor health of River Stour after high levels of E. coli detected



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Levels of E. coli detected in a river running through the heart of Sudbury are 20 times above safety standards, according to campaigners preparing for a public demonstration this weekend.

Environmental campaigners will lead a protest march from Sudbury Town Hall to Friars Meadow today, starting at noon, to demand action to address the poor health of the River Stour.

The Essex and Suffolk Rivers Trust reported to Suffolk County Council in May that every river in the county had fallen below the standards for pollution set by the Government and the Water Framework Directive.

Protestors call for action to stop the pollution of the River Stour in Sudbury. Contributed picture
Protestors call for action to stop the pollution of the River Stour in Sudbury. Contributed picture

To highlight the problems at the River Stour, Cavendish resident Vincent McGoldrick carried out extensive testing of the water downstream of the Brundon Lane sewage treatment works, as part of his Open University dissertation.

The findings indicated that the water contained high levels of the Escherichia coli – a bacteria which is found in the intestines of mammals.

Although most types of E. coli are harmless, some strains can cause abdominal cramps, diarrhoea, vomiting, fever and urinary tract infections.

Green campaigners Ruth Hendry, Tim Regester, Vincent McGoldrick and Laura Smith are concerned by the levels of E. coli detected in the River Stour in Sudbury. Picture: Tim Regester
Green campaigners Ruth Hendry, Tim Regester, Vincent McGoldrick and Laura Smith are concerned by the levels of E. coli detected in the River Stour in Sudbury. Picture: Tim Regester

“The results are shocking,” said Mr McGoldrick, who visited the river at Kings Marsh with Green campaigners to observe the worst of the pollution. “The count is over 200 units in some places, but the safe standard is meant to be 10 or less.

“Some strains can cause serious food-poisoning symptoms and young children and older adults have a greater risk of developing a life-threatening form of kidney failure, if exposed to contaminated water.”

At a Suffolk County Council meeting earlier this year – where members approved a motion to investigate what more can be done to address river pollution – it was heard that Environment Agency funding cuts had affected the body’s ability to monitor sewage discharge by water companies.

Other contributing factors to the pollution included agricultural run-off and legacy problems with storm drains overflowing and spilling sewage into rivers.

Campaigner Laura Smith told Suffolk News: “A lot of people don’t know about the storm drain overspill when we get these big rains and the sewage system can’t cope.

“We’ve been giving information out to river users and many of them aren’t aware that none of the rivers in Suffolk are safe. This E. coli finding is an extra level of horror on top of that. That’s why a big part of this protest is about raising awareness.

“What we would like is for the Environment Agency to be allowed to have more teeth, and we would like to see the profits of the water companies not go to shareholders, but to clean up the rivers.”

It is also understood that a motion is expected to go before Babergh District Council in the near future, asking that developers be required to declare the impact that their proposed housing schemes would have on the local sewage system.

Sudbury town councillor Tim Regester, a Green Party member, added: “We were shocked when Vincent shared his results with us, and we are holding a public protest to highlight the condition of the river.

“We want the Environment Agency to have more resources to monitor the rivers properly. At the moment, they are too underfunded to do the job. It’s not just E. coli – the rivers are polluted by agricultural chemicals and other pollutants, too.

“The Stour is currently very low, and it isn’t really flowing. The concentration of pollutants will climb rapidly in the warm water, which will be dangerous to wildlife and river users, and is a threat to public health.”