Road run-off pollution killing London's rivers


More than 300 pollutants are being washed into London's rivers as a result of road run-off, doing lasting damage to aquatic habitats and contributing to fish deaths and the vast majority of the capital's rivers failing an EU water quality directive.

A groundbreaking study co-funded by the Greater London Authority, Transport for London (TfL) and the Environment Agency is set to report that around 30 river courses in London are failing the EU Water Framework Directive.

Only three or four rivers are unaffected by the pollutants under the Directive's standards (see image below).


Image from Thames21 on rivers impacted by pollution in London

Carried out by Thames21 together with a range of partners, notably Professor of Environmental Science in the Urban Pollution Research Centre at Middlesex University Lian Lundy, the study is set to change the way highways are managed in the capital.

In a joint statement, the GLA and TfL intend to ‘use the evidence developed in this programme when developing highway improvement schemes and hope that it will provide extra evidence as to the best way to target resources on SuDS [sustainable drainage systems]'.

The research looked at six main pollutants – including zinc, copper, suspended solids a couple of hydro carbons - as representative of the 300.

Normally such studies look at land use, but this study is thought to be the first that looked specifically at traffic data – the activity of the cars as opposed to just the roads themselves.

The study used traffic data/models to characterise the numbers and composition of traffic flows on roads on London's strategic roads from 2013 and projected to 2025.

It used the strategic routes and the transport models held for TfL and certain local roads.

John Bryden, head of improving rivers, at Thames21 said: 'Pollutants produced by cars come from a range of areas in the car and they function in a range of different ways – particularly we have looked at a number of different pollutants associated with brakes, tyres, the exhaust, the body of the cars; crashes can also put pollutants onto the road and that flows off the road into the drainage network and in some areas into the river.'

Long dry spells followed by rain cause particularly dangerous 'first flush' events that can cause fish kills by depositing large amounts of pollutants in a river in a short space of time.

However the general wash of pollutants also causes general and lasting wear to the aquatic environment experts said, shortening life spans and preventing creatures from breeding.

Transport Network understands that initial findings from research carried out by Veronica Edmonds-Brown have found pollutants in invertebrates.

The EU directive

The EU Water Framework Directive has several phases and sets a legally binding standard for desired water quality.

However clauses allow for countries to fall short of the standard in 2021 as a result of financial viability or whether it was technically possible. A final phase ends in 2027, when the UK must meet the standard or face prosecution if it is still an EU member.

The UK is due leave the EU by this time; however many are calling for the environmental standards to be kept on.

Environment Secretary Michael Gove has pledged that environmental standards will be kept or even strengthened post-Brexit.

With the UK having already failed to meet the EU's Air Quality Directive, experts suggest we are currently likely to miss the 2027 deadline to reach water quality standards. Currently around 80% of rivers in the UK would fail the target.

Mr Bryden said: 'The targets are very challenging. The UK is one of the worst but it is not the worst. It depends on how natural an environment a country has. Northern European nations like Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany are not doing well, whereas some southern European nations are meeting the target.

'There are several contributing factors to poor water quality including sewage and environment as well as road run-off. However at the moment road run-off alone would cause London to fail the EU standard.

'The way the directive is drawn up if one aspects fails they all fail.'

Sustainable drainage systems are seen as the best way to treat these pollutants and Thames21 adviseS these are considered with all highways works. It is also keen to work with Highways England to help address the issue on a national level.

The Thames21 study cost close to £50,000.

Top image from eBaum's world.

Register now for full access

Register just once to get unrestricted, real-time coverage of the issues and challenges facing UK transport and highways engineers.

Full website content includes the latest news, exclusive commentary from leading industry figures and detailed topical analysis of the highways, transportation, environment and place-shaping sectors. Use the link below to register your details for full, free access.

Already a registered? Login

comments powered by Disqus
highways jobs

Air Quality Monitoring Project Manager

Birmingham City Council
£34,788 - £42,683
Seeking a skilled and dedicated individual with a background in environmental protection and air quality to... Birmingham, West Midlands
Recuriter: Birmingham City Council

Roadworks Inspector

Transport for London
£32,500 plus substantial benefits
You’ll review thousands of roadworks reports sent by other operational TfL staff and the Met Police andñ... Southwark, London (Greater)
Recuriter: Transport for London

Head of Planning Policy, Transport & Infrastructure Planning

Berwick Partners
Competitive Salary
This is a senior position within Be First’s Planning & Building Control Team, and you will... London (Greater)
Recuriter: Berwick Partners

Transportation Engineer

Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council
£29,636 - £33,799 per annum
Applicants should hold an appropriate qualification, preferably to degree level, and have knowledge of transportation issues. Sandwell, West Midlands
Recuriter: Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council

Trading Standards Officer

Camden London Borough Council
£36,630 - £42,490 per annum
Seeking to recruit highly motivated and experienced Trading Standards Officer’s to join our busy Business and Consumer Services team. Camden, London (Greater)
Recuriter: Camden London Borough Council

Nature Conservation Officer

Camden London Borough Council
£36,630 - £42,490
Exciting opportunity now exists for a dynamic nature conservation professional, to be the lead officer for the Council in all matters relating to Camden, London (Greater)
Recuriter: Camden London Borough Council

Environmental Health Officer/Enforcement

Brent Council
£35,724 - £41,706 p.a. inc.
Looking to recruit an Environmental Health Officer / Enforcement Officer preferably with experience of... Wembley, London (Greater)
Recuriter: Brent Council

Surface Water Engineer (Maternity Cover)

Essex County Council
£30000 - £35000 per annum + Excellent Benefits Package
The Surface Water Engineer contributes to the development and implementation of strategic plans, policy and best practice to improve the Council's knowledge and understanding of surface water flood risk and methods of management. England, Essex, Chelmsford
Recuriter: Essex County Council

Highways Project Engineer

Telford & Wrekin Council
£32,878 - 35,934 per annum
Exciting opportunity to provide technical highway input into all stages of development, within the... Telford, Shropshire
Recuriter: Telford & Wrekin Council

Highway Maintenance Senior Professional and Technical Officer - Level 1

Bristol City Council
£27,905 - £31,371
The job involves project managing and assisting senior colleagues with coordinating tasks and projects, using appropriate techniques to ensure.... City of Bristol
Recuriter: Bristol City Council

Highways Inspector

Hackney London Borough Council
£28,752 - £32,577
Seeking an experienced Highways Inspector to join the Highways Team. London (Greater)
Recuriter: Hackney London Borough Council

Street Lighting Technical Administrator

London Borough of Richmond upon Thames and London Borough of Wandsworth
£25,327 - £33,554 depending on skills
Are you looking for working arrangements that enhance your work-life balance? London (Greater)
Recuriter: London Borough of Richmond upon Thames and London Borough of Wandsworth

Environmental Protection Officer

Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council
£24,313 - £28,785 per annum
Looking to recruit officers to further strengthen our pool of Environmental Protection Officers who are responsible for... Sandwell, West Midlands
Recuriter: Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council

Citizen & Consumer Protection Officer – Environmental Health x2

Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council
£29,636 - £33,799 per annum
Looking for a suitably qualified and competent Environmental Health Officer or Food Safety / Health and Safety Officer registered with the... Sandwell, West Midlands
Recuriter: Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council

Senior Pest Control Officer (Commercial)

Brent Council
£33,291 - £35,724 p.a. inc.
Looking for a pest control officer that bring additional expertise to the team and support the manager in developing and supporting our clients. Wembley, London (Greater)
Recuriter: Brent Council

Project Officer

Westminster City Council
£33,759 - £37,413 per annum
This is an exciting opportunity to support the CRP team in developing and delivering their projects. City of Westminster, London (Greater)
Recuriter: Westminster City Council

Strategic Planning and Growth Manager

Trafford Council
£46,572 – £49,529 per annum
As the Strategic Planning and Growth Manager, you will be responsible for... Trafford, Greater Manchester
Recuriter: Trafford Council

Quality & Performance Monitoring Officer

East Lindsey District Council
£26,999 - £31,371 per annum (Grade 6)
An exciting opportunity has arisen to cover a one year period of maternity leave for the role of Quality & Performance Monitoring Officer Louth, Lincolnshire
Recuriter: East Lindsey District Council

Service Director – Environment

Kirklees Metropolitan Council
Up to £100,000
ur new Service Director - Environment will have responsibility for all front-line environmental services, as well as licensing... Kirklees, West Yorkshire
Recuriter: Kirklees Metropolitan Council

Environmental Health Officers

Camden London Borough Council
£32,473 - £42,490
Seeking Environmental Health Officers to contribute towards delivering the project objectives of addressing rogue... Camden, London (Greater)
Recuriter: Camden London Borough Council