- Some UK water firms may get permission to dump partially treated sewage into rivers under new guidance.
- A trade body said a lack of truck drivers had disrupted the supply of treatment chemicals.
- If companies can't get chemicals, they can ask for exemptions from dumping rules, the government said.
- See more stories on Insider's business page.
Some UK water suppliers could get permission to dump partially treated sewage in rivers, lakes, and the sea because of problems getting hold of a chemical to treat the waste.
The trade body Water UK told Insider that a shortage of truck drivers had disrupted the supply of ferric sulfate, the chemical in question. "There is no shortage of ferric sulfate in factories; the issue is solely one of distribution," a Water UK spokesperson told Insider.
The UK's Environment Agency said on Monday that if companies can't get enough chemicals because of Brexit, the coronavirus, or "other unavoidable supply chain failures," they can be exempted from rules that dictate when they can discharge treated sewage from waste water treatment works to surface water or groundwater.
Surface water includes rivers, streams, seas, and lakes.
The updated guidance doesn't mean water suppliers can discharge raw sewage. Any exemptions will only apply to partially treated sewage, and suppliers need written permission from the Environment Agency to get an exemption, the government body said.
The agency added that water suppliers must prioritize using the chemicals they have to treat sewage at treatment works which have the "greatest potential to cause environmental harm."
A spokesperson for the Department of the Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs told The Independent that there were "robust conditions" in place to mitigate risks to the environment.
No water suppliers have notified the government yet of a shortage of ferric sulfate, a government spokesperson told The Guardian. Water UK said that it only expected a small number of treatment works to be affected.
Like the US, the UK is currently facing a huge shortage of truck drivers, which is wreaking havoc on the supply chain. McDonald's ran out of milkshakes, Nando's ran out of peri-peri chicken, and KFC warned that some of its ingredients were currently unavailable.
The UK's Road Haulage Association estimates that there's a shortage of around 100,000 truck drivers. Insider previously reported that this was largely down to the pandemic and to new immigration rules following Brexit, and that the shortage could cause companies to hike the prices of some products.