PARIS (AP) — European Union lawmakers have a new, post-Brexit reason to be upset with the U.K.: British sewage is flowing into the English Channel and the North Sea.

After a week of heavy rain Part of Britain’s sewage system overwhelmed parts of Britain’s sewage system last week due to dry weather, releasing untreated sewage into rivers and seas. The issue is a long-running problem in Britain, where regulators are investigating potential permit breaches by six major water companies and environmental groups allege the companies have failed to make necessary repairs.

This is primarily a problem for the UK, where people were warned to stay away from dozens of beaches last week, raising concerns about public health and wildlife damage. Activist group Surfers Against Sewage has reported 654 alerts for sewage spills into bathing waters from 171 locations in England and Wales this summer.

But three French members of the European Parliament sent a letter to the European Commission on Wednesday warning that the sewage could threaten bathing waters, fishing grounds and biodiversity in the European Union.

“The English Channel and the North Sea are not dumping grounds,” said Stéphanie Yon-Courtin, a member of the European Parliament’s fisheries committee and a local MP from Normandy.

“We cannot tolerate repeated neglect of the United Kingdom’s wastewater management putting the environment, the economic activity of our fishermen and the health of our citizens at serious risk,” she said.

MPs asked the commission to “use all political and legal avenues at its disposal” to find a solution, accusing the UK of breaching its post-Brexit trade deal with the EU. He said the UK was no longer held to EU environmental standards, although it was a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Sea and committed to protecting shared sea waters.

The European Commission said it had not contacted London about the complaints so far. “We will consider this matter as appropriate,” commission spokeswoman Dana Spinant said Thursday.

Britain’s Conservative government has rejected criticism that it has strengthened water quality rules after Brexit.

“Unhelpful and misinformed comments like this should not distract from the work we are doing to protect our rivers and seas,” said UK Water Minister Steve Double. “We have already legislated for water companies to reduce the frequency and volume of sewage discharges, and our upcoming Storm Overflow Discharge Reduction Plan will require water companies to deliver the largest infrastructure program in water company history.”

But last week the opposition Liberal Democrats released a report which found that sewage discharges were not being properly recorded because many of the required monitoring devices were either not working properly or had not yet been installed.

While UK water companies are prohibited from discharging untreated sewage under normal circumstances, they are permitted to discharge such when heavy rainfall threatens to affect sewage treatment plants. Environmental groups allege that some companies take advantage of this exception to save money and avoid upgrading their systems.

During Brexit breakup negotiations, the EU repeatedly expressed fears that the UK would undermine the bloc’s strict environmental standards and succumb to business pressures for a more deregulated system that could threaten their shared environment.

The trade deal, which comes into effect in 2021 after Britain leaves the EU, contains no specific provisions on how to deal with stormwater overflows.

Water UK, which represents water and wastewater companies, said its members are investing £3 billion between 2020 and 2025 to tackle overflows as part of a national program to improve the environment. He acknowledged that “urgent action is needed to combat this harm. The environment through storm overflows and spills from sewage processes.

“Water companies cannot do this alone, which is why we are calling on governments, regulators, water companies, agriculture and other sectors to come together as soon as possible to deliver a comprehensive national plan,” the water industry group said.


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