New European States Lower EU Bathing Water Quality

BRUSSELS, Belgium, June 6, 2005 (ENS) - Along the European coasts, bathing water quality is down slightly, and on inland beaches one in 10 does not meet EU standards, according to the annual bathing water report issued by the European Commission before the start of each bathing season. The report offers information about the quality of water millions of Europeans swim in each summer.

The quality of coastal zone water dipped very slightly, compared with the previous bathing season, indicating a slight deterioration in average bathing water quality during 2004. The addition of six of the new member states is the reason for this trend, the report shows.

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Snorklers explore the waters off Portugal's Algarve coast. (Photo credit unknown)
In some cases, instead of addressing pollution found at bathing sites, the older member states have been de-listing the polluted sites or banning bathing at those sites, said Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas.

Dimas says officials noted that in many cases the sites which are de-listed or where bathing is banned are sites where there is a chronic pollution problem.

"Rather than addressing the pollution, sites are de-listed or bathing is banned with minimal consequences for compliance rates," Dimas said.

"We consider that such an approach is against the spirit and the letter of the directive and we will pursue this matter with the member states concerned," he said. "The Commission hopes to be able to report improvements in this direction in the course of 2006."

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European Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas walks a beach at home in his native Greece. (Photo courtesy Office of the Commissioner)
But not all sites that have been de-listed are still polluted. In Denmark, a 10 years' bathing ban was just lifted at one site where efforts of the local council and the Funen regional authorities to improve the water quality have succeeded. A new water saving chamber prevents undiluted wastewater from running into the sea during heavy rain. Also a new pipeline into the sea has been established, taking overflow water from the sewers 50 meters out to sea instead of discharging that water on the beach.

This is the first year that the Commission is reporting on the quality of the bathing waters of a European Union that covers 10 new member states. Six of these countries were able to submit information for inclusion in the report.

The report gives results for 19,965 bathing areas in 21 member states. In addition to the 15 member states which have been reporting their results for years, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Lithuania, Slovakia and Slovenia submitted reports this year.

Water quality in the new states was somewhat lower than in the EU 15. However, observed Dimas, many old member states did not achieve good results until several years after the bathing water law was enacted.

In some of the new member states, percentage of bathing areas have been insufficiently sampled, with figures of around 10 percent and even 30 percent common. The compliance rate is high for coastal areas, especially for Cyprus and Slovenia, and is in the order of 90 percent

"Protecting the quality of our bathing waters is essential in order to protect the health of the millions of Europeans and foreign visitors that enjoy the simple pleasure of taking a dip in our seas, rivers and lakes," Dimas said. "Guaranteeing a high level of protection is also crucial for the tourist industry."

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Cala Llonga Beach on the Spanish island of Ibiza (Photo courtesy Queen Victoria)
Throughout the European Union, the degree of compliance with reporting requirements is high for coastal waters, but not for inland bathing waters, the Commissioner said.

While 96.7 percent of coastal sites met the EU standards, compliance at inland bathing sites such as lakes and rivers has worsened, with one in 10 not up to standard.

In the 15 member states which reported results for both the 2003 and 2004 seasons, average bathing water quality in coastal areas declined compared with the previous season, the report shows.

Of the 179 new bathing areas monitored during the 2004 bathing season, over 98 percent complied with the mandatory values and the vast majority with the more stringent guide values as well.

In freshwater bathing areas, compliance with the mandatory values is limited and typically in the order of 50 percent. Measures must be taken to improve these results, said Dimas.

Europeans are very concerned about water quality in sea, coasts, rivers and lakes, and they put good bathing water quality on the first line when judging their immediate living environment.

The commissioner said he is determined to achieve not only maximum water quality across the European Union, but also to work towards making "more bathing sites part of the summer fun," including inland beaches.