2008 Marks 150th Anniversary of The Great Stink

And a summer of smells so pungent even the politicians considered moving

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This summer it will be 150 years since The Great Stink. The Great Stink or The Big Stink occurred in the summer of 1858, when it is understood the smell of untreated raw sewage in The Thames and its tributaries was overwhelming.

The House of Commons thought the smell so pungent that when draping the windows with curtains soaked in chloride of lime failed, they considered moving to Hampton Court or Oxford. Moreover, Londoner's were dying from a Cholera epidemic.

The problem neglected for many years was finally addressed by the Metropolitan Board of Works by its chief engineer Joseph Bazalgette designing the London Sewage System. He designed an extensive underground sewage system that diverted waste to the Thames Estuary, downstream of the main centre of population using a Combined Sewer Overflow methodology.
These sewers it is now agreed 'struggle to cope' with the following significant changes since the 1850’s; an increase in the number of high-velocity storms, higher volumes of rainfall, increased volume and speed of run-off water due to urbanization and significantly higher population. As a result there are around 60 storm overflows per year, spilling millions of tonnes of raw sewage in to Thames, breaching European Directives on bio-diversity and water quality.

A new sewer (Thames Tideway Tunnel) was given the green light in March 2007. Proposals include a wide diameter storage-and-transfer tunnel (internal diameters of 7.2 m and 9 m have been suggested), 22 miles (35 km) long, underneath the riverbed of the Thames between Chiswick in the west and Beckton/Crossness in the east. This project is expected to take 15 years to build and cost around £2billion, to be paid by Thames Water customers.

In the meantime, Motor Vessels such Thames Water’s ‘Thames Vitality’ and ‘Thames Bubbler’ (shown in the photograph) pump oxygen into the river helping to keep fish and other species alive while the raw sewage takes over 10 days to make it out to sea with the tide.

The coordinator of TSKC’s downstream sister organisation, Jill Goddard from TEP is speaking at STINKFEST, a free one day conference on the 17 June at UCL.

June 2, 2008