We adopt a professional, fact-based approach to establish and add to a body of evidence about local pollution and its risks to human health and the environment.
Phase 1 – Initial Investigations
An increasing number of windsurfers, swimmers and SUP’ers have been reporting illness, yet authorities have been claiming “excellent” water quality within Chichester Harbour and at adjoining Blue Flag beaches.
The Clean Harbours Partnership (CHP) was established to clarify the true facts behind contradictory and increasingly loud opinions. To start, the team brought together known facts into one place and were shocked at the weight of information suggesting a real problem.
A Pollution Problem?
Overall, a picture emerged of a broken system characterised by both legalised and illegal pollution, poor custodianship of the country’s waterways and critically, little understanding of what’s in the water and the real risks to public health and the environment.
There are 6 recent truths that have set the local background:
- Brighton University Microplastics Study (2019) – observing “an incredible” 10,000 plastic fibres in a litre of harbour water, plus fibreglass deposits in the oyster population.
- Natural England’s SSSI Review of Chichester Harbour (2021) – observing 40yrs of decline and categorising the harbour as “Unfavourable – Declining”.
- Southern Water (2021) – criminal conviction for illegally dumping raw sewage into both Langstone and Chichester Harbours (to save costs) upto the end of 2015, leaving an open question as to activity over the past 6 years. The worst environmental crime in the EA’s 25-year history.
- Environment Agency testing (2019) – downgrading of harbour water quality to its lowest classification due to high levels of substances including mercury & flame retardant.
- Southern Water ‘permitted discharges’ – over 200 untreated sewage releases into both harbours in 2020. A pattern that continues this year with over 125,000 minutes (86 days continual) recorded up to the end of October.
- Portsmouth University Research – observing the impact of pharmaceuticals in harbour water including the feminisation (estrogen) and change in behaviour (anti-depressants) of shrimps.
On a national level, the issue has escalated in public consciousness recently linked to the government’s refusal to accept the Lord’s Amendments to the Environment Bill, realisation of the scale of dumping and obvious impact on our waterways.
Phase 2 – Scientific Reseach Study
Water is the lifeblood of our environment and a central element of our local day-to-day lives. However, the CHP team has established that no one can answer fundamental questions:
- What’s in the water and who is accountable?
- To what extent is pollution impacting the environment?
- What are the human health risks?
This knowledge gap frustrates advancing the debate and therefore suits polluters.
‘You only find what you test for’. National research suggests over 30,000 chemicals come through sewage works alone, plus those from other sources such as agricultural flow, landfill leaching and highway run-off. Globally there are some 150 million registered chemicals. Our harbours experience very limited water testing. Chichester Harbour Conservancy historically test Chichester Harbour every few weeks but only for two types of E.coli (with an average 6% failure rate). There is an ongoing study measuring nitrate levels (which have been proven to be particularly high) in Chichester Harbour.
We are advised that Havant Borough Council stopped this kind of testing several years ago in Langstone Harbour due to budget constraints. To our knowledge, the EA last sampled for a limited list of c40 hazardous chemicals in 2019 (after which water quality was downgraded).
Our Research – “Project Spotlight”:
We already know that microplastics and nitrates are a problem. However, there is very little knowledge on the range of other chemicals present and their impact.
As a result, CHP has designed a scientific study jointly with Professor Alex Ford of Portsmouth University and Dr Tom Miller at Brunel University*. Both are European experts in their fields and will be using their combined knowledge, together with advances in analytical techniques, to establish the extent and likely effect of some 200 chemicals that might be present in our harbour water, such as pesticides, insecticides, pharmaceuticals, and chemicals from clothing and manufacturing processes.
Professor Ford and Dr Miller’s expertise will ensure scientific rigour and efficacy.
Project Spotlight has 3 main components. A large part will include Citizen Science to bring involvement of local communities:
- Biopsies – of 5 harbour species (oysters, amphipods, snails, worms and limpets) – each representing different feeding systems to identify the chemicals re-entering the food system through digestion.
- Water Sampling – over 5 days at 17 locations around both harbours, including the main tributaries.
- eDNA Testing – of the water to assess the biodiversity and presence of pathogens.
The project is due to commence in early 2022.
Project Spotlight has been costed jointly by Portsmouth and Brunel Universities. Both are subsidising part themselves but a further £25,000 is required, including a small contingency to fund minor follow-up research that may come to light.
Funding has just commenced and a number of parties, including local interest groups and sailing clubs have started to pledge monies to make it happen. As pledges are received, separate elements of the research can commence. The pledge amount is at each party’s discretion.
Knowledge from the project will be shared with Partners and will become a positive force for improvement by identifying priorities and bringing more accountability to the polluters.
More information on the impact of chemicals on our local environment can be seen in Professor Ford’s recent seminar.
*Professor Alex Ford (Portsmouth University) – expert in marine biology, ecotoxicology and parasitology with specific interest in acquatic toxicology, including endocrine disrupters, plastics, nanoparticles and pharmaseuticals.
*Dr Thomas Miller (Brunel University) – expert in the impact of chemicals on the environment, with specific interest in molecule mass spectrometry to identify chemicals and determine pathways associated with adverse effects on exposed organisms.