Wild swimmers in Suffolk and north Essex have described how they became ill following dips in local rivers as figures reveal the extent of problems with sewage being pumped into rivers and seas. 

Data from marine conservation charity Surfers Against Sewage (SAS) has shown that during this year’s summer bathing season, from June 1 to September 15, water company Anglian Water discharged sewage into bathing waters for a total of 235 hours. 

East Anglian Daily Times: Cllr Caroline Page became ill after swimming in the river Deben at WoodbridgeCllr Caroline Page became ill after swimming in the river Deben at Woodbridge (Image: Submitted)

Suffolk county councillor Caroline Page, who represents Woodbridge, was hospitalised after experiencing diarrhoea and vomiting the day after a swim in the river Deben in June. 

Although she could not say definitively that her illness was caused by the swim, many of the symptoms she experienced were consistent with an infection by the bacteria E. coli. 

In August, high levels of the bacteria were found during water testing at nearby Ufford Hole on the River Deben. 

Ms Page said that the bug has meant she can no longer go swimming in the river. 

She added: “It was not just frightening, what is upsetting now is that I can’t go swimming at all in the river because I’m afraid of the chance of infection and that is kind of ruining my life as it were because I’m afraid of having that degree of illness happening unexpectedly again and that is really sad.” 

Councillor Page is also receiving cancer treatment and had been advised not to swim because of the risks posed by pollution. 

A teenage swimmer also became infected after swimming in the Deben, suffering a perforated eardrum which meant she had to take time off school and take five different courses of antibiotics. 

Campaign group Save the Deben has submitted an application to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) for designated bathing water status for sections of the river which would result in greater monitoring of E. coli levels by the Environment Agency. 

East Anglian Daily Times: Manningtree Mermaids swimmer Ness Woodcock-Dennis became ill after swimming in the river StourManningtree Mermaids swimmer Ness Woodcock-Dennis became ill after swimming in the river Stour (Image: Alexander Ward)

Another wild swimmer, Ness Woodcock-Dennis, experienced an itchy eye after visiting the River Stour in Manningtree at the start of September. 

She was wearing contact lenses at the time and started experiencing symptoms after her face was splashed with water. 

She took an over-the-counter medication but this failed to kill off the infection, which became progressively worse and meant she could not see and had an aversion to light. 

Although her symptoms have since improved, she still has to use lubricating drops to stop her eyes from drying and she hasn’t returned to the water. 

The 49-year-old nurse said: “I just knew straight away, the moment I got splashed in my eye that something was wrong. It was a quick reaction.  

“I felt that my eye was itchy and what started out as a mild infection took hold and as it became worse both my eyes became infected. 

East Anglian Daily Times: Campaigners have been protesting all year about the state of the Deben. Picture: Charlotte BondCampaigners have been protesting all year about the state of the Deben. Picture: Charlotte Bond (Image: Newsquest)

“I would go downstairs at night and could not put the lights on. It was complete photophobia. I could not look at any light. I could not see at all for a good day. I could not even look at the light from the kettle.” 

The Manningtree Mermaids swim group member, who lives near Manningtree, added: “It has made me quite worried about getting back into the water because I’m worried of splashing my eye.” 

A spokesperson for Anglian Water agreed that Combined Sewer Overflows (CSO) were not an appropriate way of dealing with sewage, but said there were many factors affecting the overall health of rivers, while bacteria could come from other sources, such as animal faeces in the water. 

She said: “We agree that CSOs are no longer an appropriate way of dealing with overloaded sewers – we need to do more.   

“That’s why we are investing more than £200million to reduce storm spills between now and 2025, targeted in places where it will have the most benefit to the environment.  

“Not only this but our recent Get River Positive pledges mean that we’re committed to ensuring storm overflows and sewage treatment works will not be the reason for unhealthy rivers by the end of the decade."