Homes throughout the North East have bathroom and kitchen appliances wrongly plumbed into the surface water sewerage network.
Baths, toilets, washing machines and dishwashers which are connected to surface water sewer systems pollute rivers and beaches, damage wildlife and put health at risk.
They should instead be connected to the foul sewerage network so the waste water goes to sewage works for safe treatment.
And gutters and downpipes taking rain from roofs which are wrongly connected to the foul instead of surface water sewerage systems can contribute to flooding.
Almost 100 surface water drainage outfalls have been identified throughout the North East as being at risk of causing pollution to rivers and streams because of misconnections. It is estimated that sewers serving around 27,000 homes may initially need inspecting to identify and trace potential sources of pollution.
Northumbrian Water has a team dedicated to finding and fixing misconnections and is currently running partnership pilot projects in Darlington and Thornaby to focus attention on the problems caused.
Reporters and photographers are invited to an eye-catching event to highlight the misconnection programme at 10.30am on Wednesday 21 May at the junction of Acacia Road and Willow Road, Darlington.
A white bath, toilet, washing machine and dishwasher (not connected!) will be seen on the banks of the little Cocker Beck as it flows through the scenic Sheddy Dene park in Darlington. There will even be a willing volunteer to sit in the bath (empty!) appropriately sporting a bath cap. Wellington boots would allow wading in the shallow beck.
There are several surface water outfalls in Sheddy Dene into Cocker Beck and one, in particular is showing signs of cloudy contamination. That surface water system serves nearly 500 houses in the area which is now being surveyed by the pilot project.
Experts will also be on hand to explain the process of detection once evidence of pollution is reported.
Manhole covers are lifted for visual inspection and it includes suspending cotton pads in the pipes which are later retrieved and scanned using ultra violet light to reveal the tell tale signs of ‘optical brighteners’ now commonly used in washing powder and identifying it as washing machine waste water.
Letters are delivered and homes visited for detailed inspection with yellow, red and blue dyes used to identify misconnected properties.
Richard Warneford, Northumbrian Water’s Waste Water Director said: "Northumbrian Water is spending many millions of pounds every year to improve its networks and combat pollution and flooding.
"Extensive survey work is necessary to identify misconnections and then we work with customers to ensure faults are rectified as soon as possible.
" Everyone can play a part in protecting our environment by checking connections are correct. The age of the house could be a clue as wrong connections may have been made many years ago.
" They could also have happened accidentally or been made in ignorance or by carelessness when extensions or house alterations were built. Pipes connected to rainwater downpipes and appliances or toilets in outbuildings should also be checked."
Northumbrian Water is working in partnership with the Living Waterways Project being run by the Wildlife Trusts of Durham, Northumberland and Tees Valley and the Environment Agency. Diffuse Pollution Coordinator for the North East Wildlife Trusts, Michael Rodgers will also be available for interview.
A team of ten volunteers from Northumbrian Water have already completed a litter and rubbish clean-up of Cocker Beck under the company’s Just an Hour volunteering scheme.
The second pilot project is underway at Eltham Crescent, Thornaby to improve the water of Stainsby Beck. That surface water system serves about 430 houses in the area which is now being surveyed by the pilot project.
More details about misconnections can be found on Northumbrian Water’s website and on the national ConnectRight campaign website:
Information on how to find an approved plumber and avoid the cowboys is available from: www.WaterSafe.org.uk
For further media information contact: Alistair Baker, PR & Media Manager 01291-3016851 / 07711 793493