In The Media

Guardian Weekend, 21 June 2008

Meet the invisible men and women who pull the strings in your life

Below our feet and out of sight lies a vast system that keeps us alive.  Before sewers were laid 200 years ago, human waste went straight into drinking water and cholera and other diseases killed one child out of two before the age of five.  “There’s and old saying,” Mills says, “that engineers have saved more lives than doctors”.
With no chief inspector for sewers, Mills is the nearest we have to a national voice, advising on all issues related to sewage and improving policy on drinking water quality.  Nearly half a million miles of mains and sewers are buried beneath the ground – that’s enough to stretch to the moon and back and 200 times longer than the UK’s entire motorway network.  But the system isn’t perfect.  Most sewers are designed to take all surface water but with population growth and changing weather patterns they can easily be flooded by just an inch of rain
People’s thoughtlessness doesn’t help either- congealed cooking oil poured down the sink say costs Thames Water £6M a year to remove.  “People use their toilet as a wet wastepaper bin,” Mills says.  “There is a ‘flush and forget’ mentality”. With 6,000 incidents a year of blocked sewers spewing sewage into people’s gardens and living rooms, we may have to change our habits.

Rose George

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