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Undergraduate students in Durham University’s Department of Geography Rebecca and Victoria Smith explain how people can become more aware of the causes of urban diffuse pollution and what can be done about it. This is part of a series of posts on urban diffuse pollution awareness. Authors were selected for the Environment Agency’s Pollution Challenge that showcases the best and innovative ideas from students, academics and industry on tackling the problem of urban diffuse pollution in the UK.

when it rains it drains

In order to address the issue of urban diffuse pollution we need to be aware of the issue and our actions.  It is likely that every day we contribute some urban diffuse pollution without even rrealising it.  Such simple everyday tasks include washing your car on your driveway, or not cleaning up pet waste.  The waste water from washing your car on your driveway contributes to urban diffuse pollution because rather than this water going to the sewer to be treated and the cleaning chemicals and materials been removed, the water goes down storm drains.  Water from storm drains enters nearby river channels along with the chemicals from washing your car.  This causes the water quality of these rivers to be reduced.  Poor water quality can impact the surrounding environment, reducing biodiversity.

To reduce such contributions we need to improve awareness of our everyday actions that contribute to urban diffuse pollution.  If we take note of such simple activities, for example by washing our cars at garages with car washing facilities, this waste water can be treated prior to entering the river channels.  This can save you the job of washing your car and getting wet (and also help the environment!). Read the rest of this entry »

Durham Geography postgraduate student Libby Ferns looks at the importance of pipes to transferring waste water and how to prevent waste from entering our streets and rivers. This is part of a series of posts on urban diffuse pollution awareness.  Libby was one of a number of students from Durham University selected for the Environment Agency’s Pollution Challenge that showcases the best and innovative ideas from students, academics and industry on tackling the problem of urban diffuse pollution in the UK.

waste treatment

Have you ever wondered what occurs when you flush your toilet?

Or where your shampoo and bathwater goes?

Why don’t we go and follow it!?

When things go right, our wastewater enters this fantastic system of pipes and machines.

Our poop is separated, swooshed around, beaten to a pulp, twirled again, until eventually something useful is made out of it.  Gas for heating things, and sludge that can perhaps be used to fertilise plants (or at least be easily got rid of!) Pipes ensure that nothing horrible is oozed into our rivers and green spaces.  And if you need any more convincing about the importance of pipes, imagine what it would have been like to live in the Tudor period, or in fact, at any time up until the Victorian era.  Back then poop filled the streets and rivers. It was so smelly and dirty in cities that Victorians often died because they got sick from the filthiness.  We are lucky to have our pipes. Read the rest of this entry »

In the first of a series of posts on urban diffusion pollution, postgraduate student in Durham University’s Department of Geography, Libby Fernspins down exactly what diffuse pollution is and some of the ways it gets into our streets and waterways. This is part of a series of posts on urban diffuse pollution awareness. Libby was one of a number of students from Durham University selected for the Environment Agency’s Pollution Challenge that showcases the best and innovative ideas from students, academics and industry on tackling the problem of urban diffuse pollution in the UK.


If you’re anything like me, you would be thinking “urban diffuse pollution: that sounds like one of those silly scientific geography words that is more complicated than it needs to be”. You would be right. Urban diffuse pollution basically means urban mess: dirty litter, chemicals, gunk and nastiness. It is a problem for developed and less developed countries alike.  It damages our town or city environment, it is really spread out, it comes from lots of places, and is, in general, difficult to clean up and even more difficult to work out where its coming from! But just because it is hard to see where this mess comes from, doesn’t mean it isn’t important to think about. The trouble is, we have all, at one time or other, contributed to this pollution. Read more Clean water is often taken for granted despite growing evidence that it is threatened in many parts of the world by either environmental contamination and/or socioeconomic problems, such as poverty, which often tend to go hand in hand.  Arsenic contaminated ground water used for drinking and cooking is commonplace in many parts of Bangladesh.  Like other chemical elements known to be poisonous to humans, arsenic is tolerated to some degree, but beyond certain thresholds ingesting arsenic is toxic leading to risk of disease and death.

Arsenic contaminated groundwater currently threatens the health of 70 million people in 61 of 64 districts in Bangladesh.  Many people living in districts plagued with arsenic contaminated ground water regularly drink water with concentrations of arsenic far above national and WHO standards. An important study from Prof Peter Atkins and Dr Manzurul Hassan explores how groundwater arsenic concentration varies throughout areas of southwest Bangladesh.  Understanding the scale of arsenic contamination, the complex processes that lead to arsenic in groundwater and how arsenic spreads over time is currently needed to reduce arsenic-related health risks.  The study reveals a highly uneven spatial pattern of arsenic concentrations that can inform government policy for addressing where high levels of arsenic contamination occur in order to mitigate arsenic poisoning, a health and social hazard.  358 of the 375 tubewells sampled in the study had concentrations of arsenic of at least .05 mg/L and only 17 of the tubewells (4.50 percent) sampled are considered arsenic-safe. This is a large health concern for people living in areas of Bangladesh where the only source of water they have is contaminated with arsenic that is either above or well above the WHO standard (<0.01 mg/L), but also the limit set by the government of Bangladesh (0.05 mg/L). Read more

River Eden, UK. Eden Rivers Trust

The River Eden is one of the most beautiful rivers in the UK, if not all of Europe.  It is host to a wide variety of different plant and animal species and is a Site of Special Scientific Interest.  Many communities live on or near the River Eden or one of its tributaries.  Human impact on the landscape often has unintended or unforeseen consequences on ecosystems, including rivers.  Agriculture, primarily through the use of fertilisers, changes the ecology of river systems which affects all plant and wildlife as well as humans.

Over time, pollutants accumulate in the River Eden through farming practices, something that has been of concern to local communities and scientists alike.  In order to monitor and develop ways for decreasing diffuse pollution from agriculture, researchers from Durham, Lancaster, Newcastle, the Centre for Hydrology and Ecology, Askham Bryan College (Newton Rigg) and the Eden Rivers Trust, have come together with communities, including farmers, to develop new ways to monitor and improve river water quality.  The project known as the Eden Demonstration Test Catchment, or EdenDTC for short, has installed 10 river monitoring stations to monitor the water quality of the River Eden.  The EdenDTC has made live, real-time data about the River Eden freely available online. Read more

A new report from the United Nations Environmental Field Programme (UNEP) was launched recently during ‘World Water Week’ in Stockholm, Sweden – ‘An Ecosystems Approach to Water and Food Security’.  It was ‘written by over 50 contributors from 21 organizations and uses case studies from China, Guatemala, Jordan and other communities’.

It not only highlights how to conserve food and water resources and make them more widely available, but explains in detail how ‘ecosystem services’ can play a crucial role in resilience to climate change, a growing world population and increasing scarcity of food and water resources. Read more

ResearchBlogging.orgOn this blog we have explored research on arsenic contaminated drinking water in Bangladesh in an interview with Dr Manzurul Hassan who was a visiting researcher in IHRR last year, and is a colleague of Prof Peter Atkins based in the Dept of Geography in Durham University who also works on the arsenic problem.  Arsenic poisoning in Bangladesh is without a doubt one of the worst environmental problems in the world today affecting the health of millions of people in Bangladesh and other countries in Southeast Asia.

Read more

The American Geophysical Union Fall meeting is held every year in San Francisco and is one of the largest geosciences meetings with over 19,000 people attending.  The meeting is held over five days in two huge meeting spaces (think multiple indoor football pitches, and then two floors of them).  The sheer scale of the meeting means it’s hard to see every presentation that is relevant to you, let alone the sessions on topics that are a step away from your core interests.  It is these sessions that often lead to new ideas for your core problems – stepping over that disciplinary divide often pays dividends. Read more

This is a new presentation on SCIMAP given by Prof Stuart Lane on how to monitor diffuse agricultural pollution in river catchments within the UK. SCIMAP allows researchers to generate maps of diffuse river pollution within catchments in order to identify sources of river pollution.

SCIMAP project website:

Dr Manzurul Hassan is geographer and faculty member of Jahangirnagar University in Bangladesh.  He did his MSc and PhD in the Department of Geography at Durham University. After completing his PhD in 2003, Dr Hassan did a number of research works on groundwater arsenic poisoning.  Apart from this, he has conducted some consultancies in the development field with different national and international organisations and donor agencies.  He is now actively involved in writing-up his book Arsenic in Groundwater: Poisoning and Risk Assessment with Professor Peter Atkins (IHRR/Geography) to be published by the CRC Press (USA).  An important update on part of this research is now available.

How did groundwater arsenic contamination become a health hazard in Bangladesh?

Skin lesions from arsenic poisoning (Manzurul Hassan)


There were waterborne diseases such as diarrhoea in Bangladesh due to the drinking of untreated water several decades ago.  During the 1970s, UNICEF and some international donor agencies advised the Government of Bangladesh to tap groundwater for drinking purposes.  Drinking this groundwater actually reduces the level of diarrhoea, but at the same time it is increasing the risk of arsenic poisoning, leading to arsenicosis, hyperpigmentation, gangrene, and finally cancer.  The latency time of cancer symptoms is 15-30 years depending on arsenic content in the water and the period of ingestion.  Local poor people are not actually aware of arsenic poisoning.  They still think that tube well water is good quality and that it is much better than the surface water, whether it is contaminated with arsenic or not.

What are the social hazards associated with arsenic poisoning?

Some social problems have emerged other than health risk from arsenic poisoning.  There is a very common tendency to ostracise people who have visible arsenic symptoms on their body, particularly different types of skin lesions or gangrene.  People with arsenic poisoning can’t even go outside of their own home and they can’t participate in any social gathering.  There are even problems within families causing parents to separate or the infected to leave home.  They are isolated from society; they find it difficult to get a job and children cannot go to school.  These are the kinds of social problems in Bangladesh within arsenic-affected communities. Read more

Hazard Risk Resilience Magazine Issue 2 Out Now!

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