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Woodbridge Climate Centre discovers ‘dangerous’ levels of e.coli and phosphate in Wickham Market, Debenham, Rendlesham and Ufford





‘Dangerously high’ levels of e.coli and phosphate were detected in flood water after Storm Babet ravaged Suffolk last week.

Over the weekend, volunteers from Woodbridge Climate Centre carried out a speculative survey in Wickham Market, Debenham, Rendlesham and Ufford, testing flood water for bacteria.

The highest levels of 12,600 colony forming units (CFUs) per 100ml were recorded in the centre of Wickham Market – near flooded homes – while 11,500 CFUs per 100ml were recorded in Rendlesham, according to data collected by the volunteers.

Flooding in Wickham Market on Saturday. Picture: David Findley
Flooding in Wickham Market on Saturday. Picture: David Findley
The results of the tests in Wickham Market. Picture: David Findley
The results of the tests in Wickham Market. Picture: David Findley

Phosphate levels were also high, the climate centre said. In Wickham Market, a reading of 1.18mg per litre was recorded, while the recommended upper limit is 0.1 mg/l in fresh water.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) says e.coli levels in bathing water must not exceed 900 CFUs per 100ml.

An Environment Agency spokesman said flood water can contain elevated levels of pollutants, which can originate from multiple sources such as inundated sewerage systems or run-off from agricultural fields. They said it was not unusual to find phosphates in flood water, however, as the water recedes it will have a limited environmental impact.

Flooding in Ufford on Saturday. Picture: David Findley
Flooding in Ufford on Saturday. Picture: David Findley

According to the NHS, e.coli can enter the body after contact with contaminated water and can cause serious illness or infection.

Biochemistry professor emiratus Bill Brammar, who helped with the tests, said: “E. coli can be highly pathogenic in its own right, but is also a reliable indicator of faecal contamination and the presence of other bacteria potentially hazardous to human health.”

Woodbridge Climate Centre was concerned the levels posed a serious risk – and urged Suffolk County Council and the Environment Agency to issue warnings.

Eamonn O’Nolan, the mayor of Woodbridge and chairman of Woodbridge Climate Centre, said: “Attention is understandably focused on property damage, but the risk to public health posed by over-run sewers and sewage treatment plants has to date been ignored.

“This is a mistake, particularly when heavily contaminated floodwater is flowing into people’s homes.”

In total, 10 spots in the four villages were tested on October 21 and 22.

The results were as follows:
► Lower Street, Ufford – 7,200 CFUs per 100ml for e.coli; 0.74 mg/l of phosphate

►Byng Brook, Ufford – 7,300 CFUs per 100ml for e.coli; 0.66 mg/l of phosphate

►Rendlesham Weir – 11,500 CFUs per 100ml for e.coli; 1.17 mg/l of phosphate

►Rendlesham Ford – 7,800 CFUs per 100ml for e.coli; 0.75mg/l of phosphate

►Wickham Market – 12,600 CFUs per 100ml for e.coli; 1.18mg/l of phosphate

►Brook Lane Bridge, Debenham – 4,300 CFUs per 100ml for e.coli; 0.75mg/l of phosphate

►Water Lane, Debenham – 2,900 CFUs per 100ml for e.coli; 0.41mg/l of phosphate

►Priory Lane Bridge, Debenham – 3,900 CFUs per 100ml for e.coli; 0.39 mg/l of phosphate

►Thorpe Lane, Debenham – 2,600 CFUs per 100ml for e.coli; 0.35 mg/l of phosphate

►Thorpe Lane, Debenham (second location) – 6,000 CFUs per 100ml for e.coli; 0.56mg/l of phosphate

An Environment Agency spokesperson said: “We advise members of the public to stay away from swollen and flooded rivers.

“Flood water can contain elevated levels of pollutants, which can originate from multiple sources such as inundated sewerage systems or run-off from agricultural fields.

“Alongside signing up for our flood warning service, if the public suspect a pollution incident has occurred in a watercourse they can report it to our incident line on 0800 807060.”

The Environment Agency monitors phosphate levels on rivers and routinely monitors e.coli at designated bathing waters.

Suffolk County Council was approached for comment.