Pollution levels turning River Lee into a ‘sewage ditch’, says charity

The stretch of the River Lee that runs through Hackney is so polluted that it is no longer a river but “an open sewer”, according to an environmental charity.

The damning verdict followed Thames21 taking samples from the river this week at four sites in the borough, including opposite Lea Bank Square in Hackney Wick and Springfield Park.

Scientists working with University College London discovered that the water contained 10,000 E.coli bacteria colonies per 100ml, which is 100 times higher than the maximum level deemed safe for swimming at Blue Flag beaches.

The dissolved oxygen level in the river just south of Homerton Road is just 23 per cent – too low to support fish life, according to the findings.

And “off the scale” levels of phosphates are causing the water to choke with weed every year.

‘Pretty bad’

“This is really pretty bad,” said Theo Thomas, canal programmes manager at Thames21, which is running a Love the Lee campaign. “Sewage concentrations in the river are so high that we can’t think of it as a river any more. It is a sewage ditch.”

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Ten per cent of north Hackney homes have misconnected drainage pipes, which leads to raw waste flowing into the Lee.

And 16 million tons of sewage seeps into the river every year from the area’s dilapidated Victorian sewage network, which overflows in heavy rain.

Paint, oil and detergents poured down street drains and chemicals washed off the roads go into the river.

“We are asking people to show they care about the River Lee,” said Theo.

A spokeswoman for Thames Water, which is responsible for removing and treating sewage, said work would start early next year on the construction of a four-mile Lee Tunnel between Abbey Mills and Beckton pumping stations to improve the ailing network.

“This project marks a major milestone to create a cleaner, healthier River Thames and River Lee by preventing sewer discharges from Victorian sewers,” she said.

James Burstow from the Environment Agency said it was working with both Thames Water and Thames21 to “redress historic problems” with the River Lee.

To get involved in the Love the Lee campaign, go to www.thames21.org.uk/LovetheLee or email pledgelovethelee@thames21.org.uk