WILD SWIMMING: Pesticide ‘risk’ danger for wild swimming craze, says industry report

Investigation by Rob Edwards of The Ferret

Wild swimming has never been so popular around Loch Lomond and West Dunbartonshire’s other lochs, rivers and canal.

Today, however, we are told that wild swimmers face “a risk” to their health from a toxic pesticide discharged into lochs and the sea from over 220 salmon farms around Scotland, according to an expert report for the fish farming industry.

There is a currently a planning application to have yet another fish farm at Loch Long, one of the dirtiest lochs in the country, near Whistlefield and the Finnart oil terminal beyond Garelochhead. The often polluted shore at Arrochar  can be seen in the picture, right.

The report — commissioned from consultants by the industry body, Salmon Scotland — concluded that levels of hydrogen peroxide in salmon cages could be 28 times higher than those considered safe for swimmers.

In high concentrations, hydrogen peroxide can be “harmful if swallowed”, and “toxic if inhaled”, the report said. It can cause “severe skin burns and eye damage” as well as “respiratory irritation”.

Campaigners warned that the “poisons” dumped into the water by salmon farms were endangering the health of wild swimmers. They demanded action from regulatory authorities to cut the pollution.

But Salmon Scotland insisted that the “worst-case” estimate in its report “would never occur in real life”. The pesticide would be dispersed and diluted in the water, it argued, and swimmers kept a “safe distance” from industrial sites and vessels, which we presume includes the mammoth oil tankers which sail up the loch.

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) also said it was “highly unlikely” that swimmers would be exposed to harmful levels of hydrogen peroxide. Following concerns raised by swimmers, the risks are being investigated by NHS Highland.

Data previously released by Sepa under freedom of information law suggested that more than 40 million litres of hydrogen peroxide were discharged between 2016 and 2021 from over 220 salmon farms run by eight companies. The chemical is used to kill the sea lice that can plague caged fish.

Wild swimming – interest and participation in the sport has increased exponentially.


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