High E.coli levels near sewage treatment sites ‘no surprise’ says Coffey

Conservative Party Conference: People forget “our greatest ally for tackling bacteria is the sun”, the environment secretary has told delegates at the Conservative Party Conference.

Speaking at a fringe event at the Conservative Party’s annual conference on 1 October, Thérèse Coffey said that the public “shouldn’t be surprised” by the high level of E.coli found near wastewater treatment sites.

The event in Manchester was supposed to be chaired by the MP for Hastings and Rye, Sally-Ann Hart, but she was reportedly unable to attend because she was handing out bottles of water to her constituents facing supply disruption from Southern Water. 

“I think there’s a few things that people just don’t realise,” Coffey told delegates. “We didn’t realise until that monitoring was happening quite how overused the storm overflows were. That’s why there is a criminal investigation underway of all the water companies.” 

She continued: “But when people tell me that there’s loads of E.coli in this river by the water treatment works, [...]  it's trying to work out how to say that you shouldn’t be surprised because while all the water gets treated, not everything gets disinfected. 

“At the moment, if people want all their water treated in the exact same way so there won’t be any E.coli when it leaves the treatment works, it will require god knows how much energy and UV treatment and the cost of that is extraordinary.” 

“But for millennia the sun has done its job, nature has done its job, and people don’t necessarily seem to be aware.” 

ENDS asked Coffey why the government had only just added coastal storm overflows into the controversial storm overflows reduction plan, to which Coffey responded that it had been a decision taken under her predecessor George Eustice, and that the department had taken a “different action” under her direction. 

During the event, Coffey extolled the benefits of the sea, describing it as “our best friend”. She reiterated that in terms of tackling climate change she was still “mad about mangroves”. On the subject of the benefits of seaweed for carbon capture, Coffey said that the Prince of Wales had told her that he loves seaweed.