A chemical used to make water safe for Olympic swimmers has been rejected for use in a Suffolk river.

Water firm Anglian Water had proposed using performic acid - used in France to clean the River Seine in Paris ahead of this summer's Olympics - at Martlesham Waste Treatment Works near the River Deben, but the idea was opposed by the Environment Agency.

The disinfectant - formed from a combination of formic acid and hydrogen peroxide - is used in hospitals and has been shown to be effective in deactivating the harmful E.coli bacteria, which can cause vomiting and diarrhoea in humans.

READ MORE: Farmers join Therese Coffey to clean up River Deben, Suffolk

Use of the chemical had been proposed in Anglian Water's business plan as a way of improving water quality in the River Deben where E.coli has been found.

Sewage has been released in outflows from the Martlesham plant, which is due to be upgraded by 2030 to reduce incidents.

However, the agency rejected the proposals, saying further exploration was needed before the chemical could be used at Martlesham.

READ MORE: Suffolk river group's call for action over water quality

East Anglian Daily Times: Suffolk Coastal MP Therese Coffey has backed the use of performic acidSuffolk Coastal MP Therese Coffey has backed the use of performic acid (Image: Archant)Ruth Leach, co-founder of campaign group Save the Deben, which is trying to clean up the river, said the group had been 'particularly excited' about the prospect of the chemical being used.

Save the Deben has been seeking designated bathing water status from the Government's Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) for a section of the river at Woodbridge, having already secured the recognition for a separate area at Waldringfield.

The status certifies that the river water is safe for swimming.

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Ruth said the agency's reasoning was that while the acid might kill E.coli, it might not deactivate other viruses and could create 'a false sense of security' that the water was safe.

She added: "We were, however, very disappointed that after all of our hard work, the Anglian Water plan to use it here was rejected, but we understand the reason given and support the safety of the public."

The chemical has already been used successfully by Anglian Water to treat water during a trial near beaches at Southwold and has received the backing of Suffolk Coastal MP Therese Coffey.

READ MORE: Suffolk news

Speaking in parliament, Dr Coffey said: "France is hosting the Olympics in Paris. The Seine is being treated with a chemical called performic acid.

"There is one place in the country, Southwold, which has that right now.

"But so far Defra and Environment Agency scientists have been reluctant to roll this out.

"I want to ask the minister: If it is good enough for swimmers to swim in the Seine during the Olympics, surely it is good enough to start using this treatment which is cheaper, could be deployed a lot further, right across our country?"

An Anglian Water spokesperson said: “In 2019, Anglian Water became the first English water company to trial performic acid as a disinfectant at Southwold Water Recycling Centre.

"The treatment provides an additional layer of cleaning to the treated water at the site, before it is returned to the sea, to protect and improve bathing water quality. 

“Since the installation of the technology, the water quality at Southwold Denes beach has improved to the ‘excellent’ classification. 

“We’re working with UK Water Industry Research (UKWIR) to undertake a broader study on the efficacy of the treatment, which is due to start later this year.

"Our hope is that it will provide additional evidence to enable the roll out of performic acid as a solution more widely in the future."