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Greenpeace Says River Thames is Getting Dirty Again

May 24, 1986

LONDON (AP) _ Greenpeace environmentalists said Friday that the Thames, held up by Londoners as a shining example of how to clean a polluted river, is getting dirty again.

The Thames Water Authority, which turned the Thames from a filthy waterway fouled by centuries of neglect into one of the world’s cleanest metropolitan rivers, strongly disputed the charge. About 100 species of fish have recently been discovered in waters where only eels thrived two decades ago, it said.

But the international environmental group Greenpeace, quoting government and other official reports, maintained that the Thames is still being heavily polluted with toxic metals and other dangerous pollutants dumped illegally by riverside factories.

Only 11 salmon were caught by rod and line in the river last year compared with 18 in 1812, when the river was at its most polluted, Greenpeace said. And a 1984 water authority sample found that 29 percent of eels fished out of the Thames contained unsafe levels of mercury, according to the organization.

The Greenpeace ship Beluga, equipped with computers and manned by chemists, began plying the Thames on Friday, drawing up a map aimed at pinpointing sources of pollution. The 10-day trip is the start of a three-month survey of Britain’s major river estuaries.

″We’re looking specifically for illegal discharges,″ said Greenpeace marine biologist Andrew Booth. ″We want a limit on the number of man-made chemicals dumped with gay abandon in our rivers each year.″

The 72-foot Beluga, a former firefighters’ boat, will take between 30 and 50 water samples a day, which will be analyzed by two trained chemists using on-board computers.

When violations are discovered, authorities will be notified and another mark added to the ″pollution map.″

Greenpeace said government scientists have traced high levels of mercury, arsenic, pesticides and various other chemicals in the Thames, the Humber estuary in eastern England, and the Mersey, which flows through Liverpool.

Mike Dart, Thames Water Authority’s head of regulation and monitoring, accused Greenpeace of making ″sensational claims based on a very selective basis of results.″

″The River Thames services the needs of 12 million people,″ Dart said. ″It would be totally unrealistic to expect it to be a totally pristine river.″

Dart said riverside discharges are frequently tested and companies that break regulations are prosecuted. ″But the vast majority of riverside companies are reasonably law-abiding,″ he said.

Last year, the Beluga’s volunteer crew tested the wastes poured by riverside factories into Europe’s River Rhine between the bustling Dutch port of Rotterdam and the Swiss city of Basel.

During the seven-month cruise, Greenpeace activists blocked a paperworks’ waste pipe near Mannheim, West Germany, for half an hour before being detained by police, and swam in front of a freighter near Dusseldorf to stop it from dumping burned waste metal into the Rhine.

″The Rhine was simply atrocious,″ Booth said. ″It’s probably the most polluted river in Europe.″

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