EU's Bathing Water Directive has ‘vastly’ improved Europe’s water quality, suggests new report

Written by Martin Banks on 14 August 2018 in News
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Quality of bathing water ‘a source of pride for Europeans’, says EU environment chief.

Photo credit: Press Association


A new report says that Europeans “can safely enjoy a swim this summer” because 96 per cent of bathing sites meet minimum quality requirements set out under EU rules.

Some 85 per cent of bathing sites monitored across the EU in 2017 are also judged as “excellent” according to the European Environment Agency (EEA).

The EEA report says this means that the sites examined were mostly free from pollutants potentially harmful to human health and the environment.


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The countries with the highest number of bathing sites with excellent water quality are Luxembourg, Malta, Cyprus, Greece and Austria.

Despite a slight drop in overall standards, most swimming sites across Europe monitored by the agency met the EU’s highest and most stringent 'excellent' quality standards for waters judged to be mostly free from pollutants.

This is according to the latest annual European bathing water quality report. Its results, say the agency, give a good indication of where holidaymakers can find the best quality bathing waters this summer.

Nearly all 21,801 bathing water sites monitored by the EEA were in EU member states, plus Albania and Switzerland.

"The quality of our bathing water is a source of pride for Europeans. That quality is due to good cooperation and constant vigilance" Karmenu Vella, European Commissioner for the Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries

Monitoring showed a small drop in EU sites meeting the highest 'excellent' and the minimum quality requirements set out by the EU bathing water directive.

'Excellent' quality standards across Europe dropped marginally from 85.5 per cent in 2016 to 85 per cent. Similarly those meeting minimum 'sufficient' standing fell from 96.3 per cent to 96.0 per cent.

The reason for the slight drop, according to the agency, was due mostly to the effect of summer rain on test results as well as changes in testing methodology.

The number of overall 'poor' rated sites remained mostly unchanged from 2016 across the EU, Albania and Switzerland, dropping from 1.5 per cent in 2016 to 1.4 per cent in 2017.

Announcing the results, Karmenu Vella, European Commissioner for the Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, said: "The quality of our bathing water is a source of pride for Europeans. That quality is due to good cooperation and constant vigilance. We all play a part: industry, local authorities and services together with citizens.”

Vella went on, “We are happy to report that the European spirit of cooperation on bathing water is alive and continues to deliver for our citizens. When you add in our recently proposed measures to keep plastics out of our seas, it really has been a good year for European seas, beaches and lakes."

"Reducing water pollution benefits the well-being of European citizens but also animals and plant life. But we cannot be complacent" Hans Bruyninckx, EEA executive director

Further reaction to the study came from Hans Bruyninckx, the agency’s executive director, who said, "Reducing water pollution benefits the well-being of European citizens but also animals and plant life. But we cannot be complacent. Keeping our bathing water clean requires our sustained attention by policy makers.

“That is why regular monitoring and assessment of bathing sites remains a crucial task."

The agency’s report says that Europe's bathing water quality has “vastly” improved over the last 40 years, when the EU's Bathing Water Directive was first introduced.

It says, “Effective monitoring and management introduced under the directive led to a drastic reduction in untreated or partially treated municipal and industrial waste water ending up in water.

Despite the slight dip, it says, “As a result, more and more bathing water sites are not only meeting the minimum quality standards, but have also improved their quality to the highest standards.”

About the author

Martin Banks is a senior reporter for the Parliament Magazine

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