A water campaign group has alleged that the London segment of the River Thames is suffering the impact of sewage disposal. The assertion comes after crew members of the University of Oxford’s rowing team criticised sewage levels in the waterway. Several team members became ill before the annual Boat Race against the Cambridge University team. The Henley Mermaids, a group of five campaign swimmers in the river, said that Thames Water should be taken into public ownership.

Laura Reineke, one of the Mermaids, told BBC London that the group was still swimming in the Thames but being very cautious as to where they dipped their heads. The water is “absolutely filthy”, she said, with “condoms, sanitary products, paper” and even a toilet cassette from a boat visible. High levels of E. coli were discovered in the Thames by Putney Bridge, where the rowing event takes place every year.

Figures analysed by London City Hall in January demonstrated that the number of hours during which sewage was dumped into the Thames had more than quadrupled during the past year. Thames Water claimed that the increase was due to higher than average rainfall. Joan Fennelly, another Henley Mermaid said that she was “absolutely disgusted but also not surprised” by the news about the ill rowers.

A spokesperson for Thames Water stated that the firm had experienced higher than average long-term rainfall across London and the Thames Valley, with groundwater levels exceptionally high. “Taking action to improve the health of rivers is a key focus for us, and we want to lead the way with our transparent approach to data”, the spokesperson added

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