European Bathing Water Cleaner Again Last Year

BRUSSELS, Belgium, May 21, 2001 (ENS) - Coastal and freshwater bathing water quality in the European Union continued to improve last year, according to EU-wide sampling results for the 2000 bathing season released today by the European Commission.

Only Belgium managed 100 percent compliance with the mandatory values, for the second successive year.

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Portland Beach, England (Photos courtesy Freefoto.com)
The pollution of bathing water is caused by waste water discharges from sewage systems into rivers, lakes estuaries and the sea. For bathers, this can mean a risk of catching minor illness such as gastroenteritis, skin and eye irritations.

Environment Commissioner Margot Wallstrom said she would propose a revision of the 25 year old law underpinning the monitoring effort by the end of the year, despite a recent scientific opinion questioning the scientific basis of her current suggestions.

The 18th Bathing Water report presented today covers 11,502 seaside beaches and 4,338 fresh water areas. In 1992, around 85 percent of 11,000 coastal waters had good quality bathing water. In 2000, 96.5 percent met the quality criteria of the EU's water quality law known as the Bathing Water Directive.

The figures show that the overall proportion of European Union coastal water sites meeting the directive's mandatory limit values for water quality reached 96.5 percent in 2000. This is nearly one percentage point higher than the average reported in 1999.

The number of water sources meeting the tougher guide values rose by a similar margin to 88.4 percent.

Average compliance at freshwater sites improved by a larger margin from a lower base, rising by about 3.5 percentage points to reach 93.6 percent and 70.4 percent for the mandatory and guide values respectively.

This result was found despite declines in quality in Belgium, Portugal, the UK and Germany. Much of the overall quality gain in both water types was due to "considerable improvements" in Sweden and Finland.

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Lake Como, Italy
Wallstrom said her plan to revise the law would not be derailed by an opinion earlier this month from the European Union's scientific committee on toxicology, ecotoxicology and the environment, which said it was not scientifically possible to set exact limit values for two new microbiological contamination indicator parameters proposed by the Commission.

"It looked more serious than it turned out to be," she claimed. "What is important is that they say [the Commission's suggested limit values] are in the right range."

The Commission is likely to announce later this week that Spain will receive a repeat European court summons over its failure to comply with the bathing water law, a step that could lead to Spain being made to pay daily fines until it achieves compliance.

France, which failed to submit monitoring results for the second successive year due to industrial action, will also face infringement action soon unless it resolves the situation, an EU official said.

A Tourist Atlas that gives the quality status of all coastal and inland bathing waters is online at: http://europa.eu.int/water/water-bathing/tourist.html

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{Published in cooperation with ENDS Environment Daily, Europe's choice for environmental news. Environmental Data Services Ltd, London. Email: envdaily@ends.co.uk}