Warning to DIYers about hazardous material disposal after river turns pink

The Alsa stream in Tiverton, Devon, turned a vivid hue of pink
The Alsa stream in Tiverton, Devon, turned a vivid hue of pink (Image credit: Environment Agency)

The UK green watchdog has put out a warning after a stream turned bright pink following paint being dumped in it.

The Environment Agency issued the warning to homebuilders, renovators, and DIYers after the Alsa Brook Meadow in Tiverton, Devon, turned a vivid hue of pink last week.

And Homebuilding and Renovating has a guide on how to dispose of paint for readers looking for guidance. 

What caused the river to turn pink?

The Environment Agency tweeted: “Planning some #DIY? Please think before tipping dirty water down the drain.

“Check your home and business drainage connections. Only clean out brushes and containers to foul sewers to prevent environmental pollution like this event we investigated in #Tiverton #Devon today.”

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The watchdog later released a fuller statement that read: "Results from our investigation, including a dissolved oxygen reading, indicate no residual risk to humans or animals. There are many road drains, culverts, and houses in the area. 

"Based on the colour and behaviour of the contaminant, our officer determined that it appears to have been caused by paint disposal.

"We’d like to remind property and business owners that paint and any dirty water containing hazardous chemicals should be disposed of at local authority chemical disposal points.”

Many painters and decorators use eco paints that are both the ethical ecological choice and a healthier one for those living in the home.

How can DIYers prevent this occurring?

Paint can be damaging to the environment if it isn’t disposed of in the right way. If the paint is still usable, see if family, friends, or a group such as Community RePaint can use it.

If your paint is very old and unsuitable for re-use, please remember that paint cannot be placed in your household waste bin.

If paint is poured into foul drainage – the system of pipework that carries waste water away from a bathroom, kitchen or utility room to a local sewage treatment plant – it can cause environmental damage and blockages.

Water-based paints in very small amounts are OK i.e. when you are cleaning paint brushes, rollers and paint kettles but even that isn't ideal for your plumbing system and should be avoided where possible.

And when it comes to oil-based paint, the problem with just tossing it down the sink is amplified as it doesn’t mix with water. Specialist solvents should never be poured down the sink or drains either as they are harmful for both the environment and will again pollute the water supply.

The Recycle website helps people find waste disposal facilities in their area.

Close up on hands of a craftsman washing a brush cleaning after the painting work finished job

Paints, even in small amounts such as when cleaning paint brushes, should not be put down your sink or else risk damaging the environment (Image credit: Getty Images)

What else should you not throw down the sink?

Paint isn't the only thing you should avoid throwing down the sink. Other things you should dispose of properly include:

  • Fats, oils, and grease – they can stick to the inside of pipes and when they cool down cause blockages and create ‘fatbergs’ in sewers.
  • Coffee Grounds and egg shells – neither are water soluble and can build up and clog drains. Try composting them instead.
  • Pasta, noodles, and rice – these foods can expand once they’ve gone down the drain and cause blocks and damage. Flour can also build up and stick to the inside of your pipes.
  • Produce stickers – are usually plastic and do not break down
  • Medicine – wastewater treatment plants cannot remove medications from water and the chemicals can re-enter the water supply. Some have been proven to cause adverse effects on ecosystems, including increased mortality in aquatic species. Take unused pills etc to a pharmacist.
Sam Webb

Sam is based in Coventry and has been a news reporter for nearly 20 years. His work has featured in the Mirror, The Sun, MailOnline, the Independent, and news outlets throughout the world.  As a copywriter, he has written for clients as diverse as Saint-Gobain, Michelin, Halfords Autocentre, Great British Heating, and Irwin Industrial Tools. During the pandemic, he converted a van into a mini-camper and is currently planning to convert his shed into an office and Star Wars shrine.