'River of death': the efforts to clean up one of the UK's most polluted waterways

A serious oil spill last year galvanised local people and environmental organisations to take action to tackle repeated serious pollution incidents affecting the river Lea in east London. Regulators have since changed their approach, but campaigners remain concerned.

When residents in Hackney east London awoke on 11 February last year they discovered the river Lea had turned black. Overnight, vast quantities of oil had leaked into the river, causing huge environmental damage. “It was used engine oil – hundreds of litres of it,” says local Labour councillor Ian Rathbone. “It was really vile, black, sticky stuff. It didn’t just float on the surface – it was like an iceberg and fouled up the river bed.”

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