Joy Morrissey MP has said she is ‘deeply concerned’ by data disclosed by local naturalist Steve Backshall showing dangerous levels of E. coli and norovirus in the Thames near Marlow.

Ms Morrissey, who is Member of Parliament for the Marlow and Beaconsfield constituency, said she has arranged to meet with Rivers Minister Rebecca Pow to discuss the ‘horrifying’ levels of bacteria discovered in a water sample downstream of the Little Marlow Sewage Treatment Works.

TV presenter and naturalist Steve Backshall, who lives on the Thames with his family, sent water samples to lab technicians at Bangor University following over 12 hours of discharge from the sewage treatment works last month.

The findings showed levels of E. coli, norovirus and enterovirus that were “tens of thousands of times higher” than the acceptable concentrations.

The bacteria were discharged into the river through Thames Water’s storm overflow system, which prevents rainwater and sewage waste from building up by directing it into nearby waterways during bad weather.

Ms Morrissey said: “I am deeply concerned to hear of the results of the samples taken. It is important that Thames Water and the Environment Agency urgently confirm whether these results are accurate and what steps will be taken.

“I have arranged to speak with the Rivers Minister to raise the issues and seek assurances (that) the Environment Agency will take whatever steps are necessary to ensure the waters are safe.”

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Speaking to the Free Press on Monday, April 15, Steve Backshall said the results meant that “anyone who goes into this water by any means is going to get badly sick”.

He added: “Post-pandemic, people use the river as if it were the coast. And the water they’re using has the bacterial levels you would expect to see in neat, untreated wastewater.

“The guys at Bangor actually said to me, ‘Please tell us you’re not going in this river’. They described this as a death potion for the Thames.”

Bucks Free Press: A waterway near the Spade Oak Lake nature reserve after over 12 hours of sewage discharge in Marlow last monthA waterway near the Spade Oak Lake nature reserve after over 12 hours of sewage discharge in Marlow last month (Image: Wild Marlow)

Verity West from the local environmental group Wild Marlow said the findings were “appalling” and criticised Thames Water for “using the excuse of rainfall to justify dumping toxic waste” and “putting people and wildlife at risk”.

Adding: “The regular incidents from the Little Marlow facility and the supporting infrastructure appear unfit for purpose and detrimentally impact our natural environment, killing fish, birds and mammals that rely on our waterways and bodies in order to survive.

“Enough is enough. Something has to be done to stop this unacceptable, hazardous practice. It simply must be sorted out before it’s too late, and our rivers and lakes are declared ecologically dead.”

A spokesperson for Thames Water said: "Little Marlow Sewage Treatment Works is fully compliant with its effluent quality consent and its storm discharge permit, as set by the Environment Agency to protect river water quality and the associated ecosystem.

"There are clear guidelines on how samples should be taken in order to give an accurate picture of the quality of the water, and we would be keen to understand more about the approach taken in (Bangor University’s analysis). Taking action to improve the health of rivers is a key focus for us and we are leading the way with our transparent approach to data.”