Pollution warning app for swimmers and surfers launched

Beach cleaners on a beach in Thanet
Image caption Serious discharges of raw sewage can lead to beaches being closed to the public

An app that gives bathers and surfers real-time warnings about pollution incidents on beaches has been launched.

The free service sends alerts or text messages about discharges of sewage and storm water at almost 250 beaches in England and Wales.

It was created in response to concerns about a rise in sewage spills, which can cause illnesses for beach-goers.

It was developed by the charity Surfers Against Sewage (SAS) and funded by the Environment Agency.

Last year's washout summer led to a rise in UK beaches failing to meet minimum standards for water quality, while the number of bathing spots which met the highest levels for cleanliness fell.

The app can be downloaded for use on iPhone or Android smartphones.

It accesses data from water companies on combined sewer overflows, which allow untreated sewage and storm water into the sea in periods of heavy rain to prevent sewers backing up.

Stomach bugs

The service works by sending out alerts or text messages to users when pollution reaches dangerous levels and the information is posted online.

SAS hopes the alert service will help beach users bathe at their favourite spots safely, without fearing illnesses such as stomach bugs, skin, ear, eye and chest infections, or sore throats, and even hepatitis.

Image caption British pro surfer Ben Skinner said he would use the pollution alert app

The app also allows bathers to send a "must try harder" message to water companies and report pollution incidents to the Environment Agency's hotline.

The sewage alert service was tested on three beaches in Cornwall, and a poll of 591 people, conducted by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) found that 94% of people who received information about short-term spills took action to avoid them.

SAS campaign director Andy Cummins said: "This truly is an innovative concept, achieved thanks to years of campaigning against secretive combine sewer overflow sewage discharges from water companies."

Environment Minister Richard Benyon said it would help people make well-informed choices about where to swim.

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