Warning over dangers of swimming in Thames amid heatwave

The Environment Agency (EA) are warning swimmers over the risks of bathing in the River Thames amid soaring summer temperatures this weekend.

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The ongoing heatwave is encouraging residents to take to the Thames to cool off, yet there are numerous risks associated with doing so as EA sought to highlight on Friday (June 26).

Jumping/diving in, going near weirs or locks, boat traffic and cold waters were all pointed to by the EA as potentially risky for swimmers despite the temptations to beat the baking heat by bathing.

Meanwhile, there are previously documented cases of gastro-intestinal disease caught by a number of people who had swum in the Thames (see below).

EA’s ‘Top Tips’ for river safety included the following points:

  • Don’t jump or dive in as the depth may vary and there can be unseen hazards.
  • Don’t go in near weirs, locks, pipes and sluices. These and some other water features are often linked with strong currents.
  • Inland waters can be very cold, no matter how warm the weather. Those going into cold water can get cramp, and experience breathing difficulties very quickly.
  • Keep a look out for boat traffic. Boaters, especially on larger vessels, can find it very hard to spot swimmers.

The agency advised parents with some basic safety tips for keeping children safe, including teaching them to swim properly and not allowing them to get in the water unsupervised.

“Drowning can occur very quickly, even in shallow water, and the key to keeping safe is to take all necessary precautions to avoid getting into difficulty in the first place,” the EA said in its warning issued on Friday.

As the Comet reported recently, a man’s body was pulled from the Thames near Sunbury Locks after he had previously entered the water.

“Experience shows it is often young people who get into trouble whilst swimming in open water, which contains hazards, particularly in and around locks, weirs and bridges.

“Unexpectedly cold waters or strong currents can also catch bathers off-guard,” the EA added.

Richmond and Twickenham Times: Sunbury Locks, where a man's body was recently recovered after he had entered the water one eveningSunbury Locks, where a man’s body was recently recovered after he had entered the water one evening

Russell Robson, River Thames operations manager for the Environment Agency, added his thoughts about impromtu swimming during the present hot weather:

“The River Thames is a focal point for leisure time, but I’d prefer people didn’t swim in any river, unless part of an organised event,” he said.

“One of the main risks is cold-water shock, causing you to breathe in water, weakening your muscles, and creating immediate heart problems.

“Unseen currents and reeds beneath the surface could pull you under.”

There are other risks associated with swimming in the Thames.

A Public Health England (PHE) report into the 2012 Hampton Court Swim between Hampton Court and Kingston Bridge found that a number of swimmers who took part had caught gastro-intestinal illnesses like Giardia as a result of the swim:

“Over 1,000 people took part in the swim and 338 reported experiencing symptoms of illness after the swim including nausea, diarrhoea, stomach cramps and vomiting,” the study reported.

Recent reports showed that millions of tonnes of sewage are dumped into the Thames annually due to the river’s outdated sewage control systems.

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