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IMPORTANT - Pollution Incident River Irwell

Posted: Wed Apr 19, 2017 11:38 pm
by Shufflerschair
I've just received this from one of the Catchment Partnership members for the River Irwell, in North Bury.
The extent of the affected area takes in the Burrs Site on the River Irwell, and all the extended run down from Rawtenstall/Ramsbottom.

"I am very saddened to inform you that a significant pollution incident has occurred on the River Irwell first identified/reported on the 3rd April 2017

A near total wipe out of invertebrates and crustaceans has taken place over a 15 mile section of river downstream from Rossendale Waste Water Treatment Works – to the confluence of the River Roch.

At this point the diluting effect of the cleaner water from the River Roch has enabled some invertebrates to survive – but the populations of higher level species such as heptagenids, stonefly, freshwater shrimp etc have suffered a total wipe out with only the more pollution tolerant baetis surviving (in much reduced numbers).

The word “catastrophe” is more than suitable adjective to use in this instance.
To date – I feel as though the response – investigation – and public sharing of information has been worse than poor.

As a consequence of our knowledge that the EA investigation team had not been able to locate the source of this powerful pollutant we sent a team of two Kick Samplers (volunteers with a net and bucket ) to take invertebrate samples from thee river and they managed to located the source of pollution within 45 minutes.

They found that the pollutant had entered the Irwell via the outfall of Rossendale Waste Water Treatment Works. Invertebrate populations are healthy 50 yards above the outfall, and totally absent below.
Video evidence of this can be seen by clicking on the icons on this google map – see link ... sp=sharing

We are also aware of a very similar high profile pollution incident in 2013 on the River Kennet – again all the invertebrates died, fish survived. In direct similarity this incident was discovered by Riverfly Partnership Kick Sample Monitor volunteer and initially very poorly investigated by the Environment Agency – until it was realised that the one of the riparian owners of the river was no other than Richard Benyon – then Secretary Of State for the Environment!!

See - ... dlife.html

The similarity between the Kennet incident and the evidence on the ground with this recent Irwell pollution is too similar to be ignored.

It was a week after the Kennet incident took place before the river water was the water tested for the pesticide Chlorpyrifos – and after a positive test result Health England “closed the river”to the general public.

We know this extra information after speaking to Charlotte Hitchmough of the Kennet Rivers Trust 01672 512700 (who is happy to take your calls).

The Kennet Rivers Trust also informed us that Chlorpyrifos has to be specifically tested for – and isn’t part of the usual suite of possible pollutants that the EA or Utility Company monitor or test for.
Once tests were conducted Thames Water discovered Chlorpyrifos in the treatment works sludge beds and that it was continuing to leach into the watercourse 14 days after the initial pollution event. Thames Water isolated their sewage beds and undertook remedial treatment to prevent further river water pollution taking place.

We have already informed both the EA and UU about our findings regarding this pollution incident – and our concerns regarding the potential that might be Chlorpyrifos (or similar) poisoning, but to date we have not heard if any further water analysis has taken place.

Chlorpyrifos is an extremely toxic chemical to humans as well as invertebrates as it binds to fats (our skin?). Members of the River Kennet investigation team were all advised to have blood tests for Chlorifypros poisoning after the chemical had been identified.

Anglers, kayakers, Greater Manchester Fire Service, Greater Manchester Police Dive Teams have all been in contact with us trying to find out if they might be at risk from being in Irwell water over the last few weeks – but there are no press releases/contact/answers for us to give other than to take no risks until facts are known. However there appears to be a wall of silence and no information sharing is taking place."

As the notification shows, in the last two paragraphs, whatever has gone into the river is potentially toxic, so, I'd recommend that extreme caution is taken if considering a run on the Irwell.

I'll post updates as received.

Andy Rothwell
Irwell Shufflers
BCU River Adviser River Irwell

Update - Pollution Incident River Irwell

Posted: Sun Apr 23, 2017 7:33 pm
by Shufflerschair
Now, a further report on the ongoing pollution of the River Irwell and, more importantly for users of this forum, the conditions at the Burrs Site in North Bury.

Here's a link to a webpage published today by the Mersey Basin Trust (of which the Irwell forms a part) ... ted-again/

Today, Sunday 23rd April, the discharge of substances into the river contaminated the Burrs site (see photographs and video in the article).
And, yet again, nothing from the Environment Agency.

I re-iterate the need for consideration of conditions and caution when thinking of paddling on the Irwell at the moment.

Andy Rothwell
Irwell Shufflers
BCU River Adviser River Irwell

Re: IMPORTANT - Pollution Incident River Irwell

Posted: Sun May 07, 2017 11:26 am
by Shufflerschair
Just an update on the ongoing matter on the River Irwell.

I have now spent two weeks trying to get an update from the Environment Agency regarding the water quality on the Irwell, but with no meaningful response.
The Catchment Officers are not forthcoming with any information, and the "Environment Manager" and the "Team Leader" for the river have not, to date, issued anything at all.

They originally said that the information was being kept within the Agency as it's release may "prejudice any investigation we have undertaken".

Here's the update from the Steering Group for the Irwell :

"Please find attached an outline of the Environment Agency’s response to the pollution incident on April 3rd, and below a summary of information from United Utilities. The Environment Agency will brief us further when information becomes available, but are unable to provide specific details where this may jeopardise any case that may arise from their investigations.

Below is a summary of the information I have about the incident from our perspective – I hope it emphasises the seriousness with which we are treating the situation and the effort we are investing into additional samples and :

- Our site team were made aware of the incident by the EA last Wednesday (5th), at that time the officer seemed to think the source was unlikely to be from our works.

- We have done some investigation at the treatment works, however if the substance has come through Rossendale treatment works it has not been detected on any of our standard samples and has caused no detriment to our treatment processes, which are biological.

- We don't believe there are any trade effluent customers in the drainage network which use these chemicals but we are taking additional samples from them anyway to see if anything is detected.

- We currently have a programme of monthly chemical sampling upstream and downstream of the works and on the final effluent, testing for a variety of priority substances (although not Chlorpyrifos). Unfortunately there was no sampling over the Easter weekend, but when the most recent samples come in we will analyse the data to see if there are any anomalies.

- In a similar event in 2006 we identified a culvert around the location where the invertebrate kill appears to have occurred (map below) which is adjacent to our treatment works and tracks up into farmland. Reports from our network team suggest that this was discharging what looked like slurry/silage liquor at the time of the incident."

One only has to hope and pray that, whatever the substance that caused the pollution on the Iwell has been found to be, it poses no, or little, threat to paddlers.
I cannot believe that the EA would compromise safety and allow padling if the contaminant was toxic, just for the sake of more chance of success in an eventual prosecution, if one ever comes about.


Andy Rothwell
Irwell Shufflers
BCU River Adviser River Irwell

Re: IMPORTANT - Pollution Incident River Irwell

Posted: Thu May 18, 2017 10:23 pm
by Shufflerschair
Re ; The pollution incident on the River Irwell.

We now have a statement from the Environment Agency, which I post below.
Incredibly, this is being regarded as a "Crayfish Incident", pretty much disregarding the potential risks to canoeists, and other river users.
No word at all about the lack of notice given to the Burrs Centre, nor any reassurances about the potential, or otherwise, for detriment to health.

Here's the statement :


16 May 2017

Crayfish Incident - On the 3 April 2017 the Environment Agency received multiple reports of dead crayfish in the River Irwell via our Incident Communication Service. The Environment Agency deployed officers to investigate, this involved the collection of multiple water and moss samples and assessment of the impact on invertebrates on a 10 mile stretch of the River Irwell. Our initial investigation found a number of dead signal crayfish (non-native species) and invertebrates, however no impact was observed to fish populations in the river.
Foam Incident – On the weekend of 22 April 2017 the Environment Agency received multiple reports of foam on the River Irwell at Burrs Country Park via our Incident Communication Service. The Environment Agency deployed officers to investigate, they collected multiple water samples whilst making observations on the behaviour of the watercourse and its wildlife.

We are treating these incidents as separate category 2 (significant) incidents. Note there have been no fish mortalities associated with either of these incidents.

Current situation
The analysis of the moss samples collected during the crayfish incident indicated the presence of a chemical and enabled us to focus our investigation on a smaller section of the River Irwell. Further moss samples taken on the 19 April enabled us to narrow down our search area even more and these results indicated that it is highly likely that the pollutant has come through the foul sewer network.

Water samples and on site observations have confirmed that the foam incident is also highly likely to have come through the foul sewer network.

Water samples were collected from the River Irwell during both incidents, the results have shown to be consistent to those of a normal healthy river and nothing of note was detected in either incident. We can confirm that our evidence shows that the incidents are not ongoing however the effects of the incidents will take time to recover. We believe that the invertebrates will begin to show signs of recovery within 3-4 months and we will carry out sampling closer to this time to confirm this. We expect the invertebrate community to fully recover within a year.

Action going forward
The Environment Agency is working in partnership with United Utilities to investigate potential regulated and unregulated sources of the pollution for both incidents. If and when an offender is identified for either incident we will take appropriate action in line with our enforcement procedures and the outcome of any investigation will be communicated via our media channels. As with any criminal investigation, we are unable to release specific information which may jeopardise any case we may need to take forward.

Advice for anyone contacting you.
If anyone has any new information or wishes to report an incident in the future please contact our 24 hour Incident Hotline on 0800 80 70 60 to ensure it is assessed as soon as possible. If you require further information please email"

So, there it is,
How the Environment Agency can say, in one breath, that the sampling they have taken is "consistent to those of a normal healthy river", yet in the next line, tell us that the "invertabrates will take 3-4 months to recover", and that "the effects of the incidents will take time to recover" is beyond abstract.
If it's a "normal healthy river", then what's it recovering from for the next three months ????

And, even though they haven't got any suspects, nor indicated causes, they are "unable to release specific information'.

Honestly, I wouldn't trust the Environment Agency to feed my goldfish, never mind look after a river.

So, I guess, it's up to you if you paddle the Irwell.
Personally, I probably will now, and we'll continue to keep an ear open for reports of adverse affects if any arise.
I won't post any more updates now, unless anything emerges from beneath the carpet that the Environment Agency has swept this under.

Andy Rothwell
Irwell Shufflers
BCU River Adviser River Irwell

Re: IMPORTANT - Pollution Incident River Irwell

Posted: Wed May 31, 2017 1:44 pm
by RichA
Is there not an ombudsman or similar that can take a look at how the EA handled this?

Re: IMPORTANT - Pollution Incident River Irwell

Posted: Wed May 31, 2017 8:39 pm
by Shufflerschair
No Ombudsman that I'm aware of Rich, but there has been a meeting of the Irwell catchment steering group today, and the reporting and response of pollution incidents was an agenda item.
I'll see what the minutes say, and whether a new protocol has been agreed.

But, I've taken this to the MP's along the Irwell catchment, and am waiting for the responses to the letters that they've written to the EA.
Also, the BCU are copied into all the corresponding passing between the interested parties.