Sat. Apr 13th, 2024
alert-–-has-the-thames-become-a-laughing-stock?-us-media-pen-stories-about-‘sewage-infused’-river-–-as-oxford-rower-blames-high-levels-of-e.-coli-for-losing-boat-race-to-cambridgeAlert – Has the Thames become a laughing stock? US media pen stories about ‘sewage-infused’ river – as Oxford rower blames high levels of E. coli for losing boat race to Cambridge

Britain’s River Thames appears to have become a laughing stock in America after the 2024 Boat Race between Oxford and Cambridge was marred by high levels of E.coli in the water.

University of Oxford rower Leonard Jenkins blamed the grim pollution in the river for their defeat to Cambridge yesterday afternoon.

Thames Water leaked raw sewage from two nearby sewage overflows for around six hours between them on Friday.

Jews Row Pumping Station, less than one mile east from the Oxbridge Boat Race startline at Putney Bridge, spewed untreated sewage for four hours and 16 minutes.  And the storm overflow at Bell Lane Creek, which is connected to the Thames just 300 yards south of Jews Row, also leaked for around 45 minutes.

All crews were given safety guidance on a range of preventative measures, from covering up scrapes with waterproof plasters to ensuring rowers avoided swallowing any water that splashed up from the Thames.

For the first time, American news outlets Fox News, CNN, CBS and the New York Times published articles about the race’s build-up.

Crew members of Cambridge celebrate after winning the men's boat race between Oxford University and Cambridge University

Crew members of Cambridge celebrate after winning the men’s boat race between Oxford University and Cambridge University

Britain's River Thames appears to have become a laughing stock in America, with some describing the water as 'sewage-infused'

Britain’s River Thames appears to have become a laughing stock in America, with some describing the water as ‘sewage-infused’

A story in the New York Times ran the headline: ‘The warning is stern: Do not enter the water. Not because of the tide. Not because of sharks. Because of the sewage.’ 

Another story they wrote said: ‘What Lies Beneath: London Boat Race Marred by Sewage Concerns.’

CBS News wrote: ‘Oxford-Cambridge boat racers warned of ‘alarmingly high’ E.coli levels in London’s sewage-infused Thames.’

Elsewhere, a Fox News headline said: ‘Oxford, Cambridge rowing teams warned about polluted waters ahead of Boat Race: It’s a ‘national disgrace”

And CNN wrote: ‘Oxford-Cambridge boat race rowers warned to avoid water after E.coli find as Britain’s pollution crisis grows’.

Among the spectators who descended on the banks of the Thames yesterday was former Oxford rower Richard Hull who came to watch his son take part in the men’s reserve competition.

‘I had no worries about contamination when I took part in the Boat Race in 1990. But now everything has changed,’ he told The Guardian. ‘The river has become badly polluted. The crews are getting covered with water that gets splashed into the boat, so how you actually just stay healthy during a race is beyond me.’

After the race, Oxford rower Mr Jenkins told the BBC his team ‘had a few guys go down pretty badly with E. coli, this morning, I was throwing up, I was not sure there would be a chance for me to be in the boat’.

Sewage leaks yesterday which were less than a mile from the Oxbridge Boat Race startline

Sewage leaks yesterday which were less than a mile from the Oxbridge Boat Race startline

Oxford team captain Lenny Jenkins (pictured) blamed E.coli in the water for their defeat against Cambridge, saying he was vomiting before the start of dramatic showdown

Oxford team captain Lenny Jenkins (pictured) blamed E.coli in the water for their defeat against Cambridge, saying he was vomiting before the start of dramatic showdown 

After congratulating the winning squad the Oxford captain said his teammates were affected by the E.coli in the water

After congratulating the winning squad the Oxford captain said his teammates were affected by the E.coli in the water 

He told the BBC: 'This morning I was throwing up and I really wasn¿t sure there was going to be a chance for me to be in the boat, but I ultimately kept that quiet and that¿s on my shoulders' (pictured: Cambridge squad)

He told the BBC: ‘This morning I was throwing up and I really wasn’t sure there was going to be a chance for me to be in the boat, but I ultimately kept that quiet and that’s on my shoulders’ (pictured: Cambridge squad)

He added: ‘But I kept that quiet and that is on my shoulders. I’m not sure if it was the right choice because I don’t feel I had much to give.

‘It would be a lot nicer if there wasn’t as much poo in the water.

‘It’s not to take away from Cambridge, as we may not have beaten them even if we were all on top form.’

Mr Jenkins’ team-mate Will Denegri revealed three of the team has stomach bugs in the week running up to the race.

He said: ‘Whether that’s related to in the river, I don’t know. But it’s certainly not helped our campaign.

‘It’s not an excuse, but it definitely hasn’t helped our preparation.’

E. coli can cause a range of serious infections and other side-effects.

In a statement, organisers of the Boat Race said: ‘The Boat Race is aware of Leonard Jenkins’ comments about a sickness bug affecting their preparations this week.

‘We’re not in a position to speculate about the causes of this sickness bug but we have contacted Oxford University Boat Club to seek further clarity.’

Research earlier this week found high levels of E. coli were in the part of the river used for the annual race between the University of Oxford and the University of Cambridge. 

Cambridge men were ecstatic following their win, which meant both their men and women's squads walked away victorious

Cambridge men were ecstatic following their win, which meant both their men and women’s squads walked away victorious

Fans were on the edge of their seats as they watched the dramatic run-up to the finish line between the two men's squads

Fans were on the edge of their seats as they watched the dramatic run-up to the finish line between the two men’s squads

Oxford’s coach Sean Bowden called it a ‘national disgrace’.

It comes after a tense race to the finish line, which saw Cambridge’s Matt Edge collapsed in their boat as they made their approach for the win. 

With spit dripping from his chin, his crew managed to get him over the finish line and bag the win with a fairly large lead. The Cambridge women’s team also clinched victory on Saturday.

Whilst the winning team traditionally throws their cox into the water, the Cambridge women’s team instead lifted their teammate Hannah Murphy up inside the boat.

Asked about their choice of celebration following the E. coli research, Ms Murphy said afterwards: ‘It is what it is. I think we want to support the research that’s being done and the guidelines by British Safety.

‘It’s not really that important, ultimately.’

Four-time Olympic rowing gold medallist Sir Matthew Pinsent told ITV News that the decades of sewage in the Thames was ‘really disappointing’.

Action Water said the E.coli recorded in the Thames River its highest ever levels, with Government advice indicating people should avoid bathing in the water

Action Water said the E.coli recorded in the Thames River its highest ever levels, with Government advice indicating people should avoid bathing in the water

Cambridge women were delighted to win for the seventh time in a row against Oxford

Cambridge women were delighted to win for the seventh time in a row against Oxford

Cambridge women have won the historic boat race against Oxford for the seventh time in a row

Cambridge women have won the historic boat race against Oxford for the seventh time in a row

The Olympian said: ‘I think what’s frustrating from the rowing point of view, from the sport, is we’ve had decades of this and the beautiful Thames getting slowly worse – and that’s really disappointing.’

This comes after the racers from the UK’s top universities gently rowed along the river in Putney as they prepared to go head-on in their annual heart-racing battle this morning.

16 tests around Hammersmith Bridge in west London indicated an average of 2,869 E.coli colony forming units (CFU) per 100ml of water.

The E.coli level should be below 1,000 CFU per 100ml to fall in line with the Environment Agency’s inland bathing water quality standards.

River Action said the highest level it recorded was 9,801 CFU per 100ml, meaning it was nearly 10 times higher than levels found in bathing waters graded as ‘poor’ by Environment Agency standards.

Government advice indicates that people should avoid being submerged in a water of this grade – which is the lowest.

It is believed the pollution in the river is from Thames water discharging sewage straight into the river, according to River Action.

Huge crowds flocked at the 169th annual boat race between Oxford and Cambridge University on the River Thames

Huge crowds flocked at the 169th annual boat race between Oxford and Cambridge University on the River Thames

This is based on publicly available data which showed that the water company had discharged sewage into the Greater London area of the River Thames for 1,914 hours from the start of 2024 up to March 26. This is equivalent to 79 out of the 85 days.

Following the findings, both British Rowing and River Action released new guidance for rowing clubs dotted throughout the UK on how they can safely row in polluted bodies of water.

This advice has been included in the Gemini Boat Race briefing packs to both universities.

Rowers are advised on the importance of covering cuts, grazes and blisters with waterproof dressings, taking care not to swallow river water that splashes close to the mouth, wearing suitable footwear when launching or recovering a boat, and cleaning all equipment thoroughly.

River Action chief executive James Wallace said: ‘We are in a tragic situation when elite athletes are issued with health guidance ahead of a historic race on the capital’s river.

‘Our water quality results show what happens after decades of neglect by an unregulated water company, Thames Water.’

Conservationists, rowers and communities alike are teaming up to urge the Government to enforce the law and ensure polluters face legal punishment.

‘Everyone should be able to enjoy our rivers and seas without risking their health,’ Mr Wallace said

Scientists urged them to ‘take care not to swallow river water’ and to cover any cuts to avoid serious infection from the river.

The bacteria, which can cause serious infections, was discovered during regular testing by River Action and the Fulham Reach Boat Club between February 28 and March 26, using a World Health Organisation-verified E.coli analyser.

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