Phosphate pollution in the River Lea. From sewage and homes

Dear all,

I’ve posted a photo I took recently of the Lea at Bow Locks, in Bromley-by-Bow.

The river is already looking green. That’s because of the high levels of phosphates in the water. It acts like a fertilizer. As the weather gets warmer the soup-like water gives plants like Floating Pennywort and Duckweed the perfect conditions to flourish. Spreading over the water, cutting out the sunlight. To get the worst rating for high phosphate levels a 100ml of river water needs to contain more than 1 milligram of phosphate. At Bow there is an average of 5.35mg per 100ml of water! Higher up the Lea we get more than 8 milligrams. This really messes up the balance of the ecosystem.

The phosphates are coming from Deephams Sewage Treatment Plant and homes in the Lea Valley.

So now is the time to ask people to stop buying dishwasher tablets with phosphates in. Some dishwasher tablets contain more than 30% phosphates. Asda stocks a phosphate free brand, Planet Clean. Tesco do an own brand that's phosphate free. Many shops stock Ecover tablets or other green options. If they don't have phosphate free products they should - ask the store to get them.

The European Parliament voted before Christmas to ban phosphates in dishwasher tablets. The ban will come into force in January 2017!!! But we can stop buying them now – instant results.

European Parliament link -

We also need to get people to stop using handwash that contains Triclosan. It’s an anti-bacterial chemical added to many products. But it is needlessly added to handwash. When it gets into rivers it is toxic to aquatic life and is a hormone disruptor. The annoying thing is that it is no better at removing bacteria from hands than normal soap and water. This report shows Triclosan in hand wash is a waste of time -

A report from the Canadian Government this year concluded “Triclosan has a high inherent toxicity to a variety of aquatic organisms, such as algae, macrophytes, invertebrates, amphibians and fish. Adverse effects on these organisms include reduction in growth, reproduction and survival...Triclosan may also interfere with the action of thyroid hormones in amphibians at environmentally relevant concentrations."

Kind regards,


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Comment by Theo Thomas on June 4, 2012 at 19:44

Hi James.

Most UK washine machine tablets/powder should be phosphate free now. But check to see if they have

sodium tripolyphosphate (STPP) on the pack. If they do then that is phosphate.

Some will say they have Phosphonates in them, and there are some concerns about this additive. Optical brighteners give some people concern as they are made with stilbenes.

Which brands have you looked at?


Comment by James Diamond on June 4, 2012 at 11:03

Hi Theo,  what about washing machine tablets?  I can't tell which ones are phosphate-free 'cos they aren;t labelled.  I used to get Ecover washing tablets, but I'm finding it hard to get them any more.  Are alternatives like biological tablets phosphate-free?

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