POLLUTION FROM water treatment plants upgraded under European laws to improve river and coastal water quality is nullifying the environmental benefits the directives were designed to bring, water firms claimed this week.
European laws such as the European Union Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive, which require water companies to improve the quality of their sewage treatment discharges into rivers by 2005, have led to water firms spending millions on new plant.
New treatment plants emit more heat and gas, use more costly chemicals and cause energy bills to soar, negating the environmental benefits the directives were designed to bring, said water firms.
Thames Water environment and quality manager Peter Spillet said his company had seen huge increases in energy and chemical costs as a result of complying with the laws.
He added that Imperial College research had shown water companies' energy use for sewage treatment - traditionally one of the UK's largest energy users - had risen by 11% since 1996.
Anglian Water head of environmental regulation Dr Stephen Bolt said that some of his company's improved coastal wastewater treatment plants are now using so much more energy that the overall environmental benefit is minimal.
But a Severn Trent spokesman said the logic behind the laws needed investigating by the Office of the Water Regulator and the Environment Agency.
'We don't know if anyone actually sits down and works these things out. If you're doing extra end of pipe solutions, but burning more fossil fuels as a result, is that sensible?' he said.