EU bathing water quality improves

Official report for 1999 shows Portuguese freshwater status leaping, Scandinavia struggling

Water quality at official coastal and freshwater bathing sites in the EU increased marginally last year, the latest European Commission annual report on the implementation of the 1976 bathing water directive showed today. Overall EU compliance with the mandatory values for the first time now exceeds 90% for both types of waters. Portugal has managed "remarkable" advances in water quality, the Commission says, while Nordic countries are "struggling" with the law.

Under the directive, EU member states must sample bathing waters for two types of faecal pollution and three types of chemical pollution. Today's report shows that 95.6% of EU coastal waters conformed to the "mandatory" values required by the law in 1999, up one percentage point from last year. Freshwater compliance stood at 90.2%, up from 86.5%. Compliance of both types of water with stricter, non-binding "guide" values was up by around three percentage points in 1999, to 87.3% for coastal and 66.9% for freshwater.

Portuguese freshwater bathing areas made the greatest progress in 1999: compliance with mandatory standards jumped to 78.4% last year from below 20% the previous year. Denmark, meanwhile, registered decreases in water quality at both types of site, with coastal water quality dropping for the third year in a row. Sweden and Finland are still "struggling with the correct implementation of the directive" by failing to sample up to a quarter of their coastal waters correctly, the Commission said.

Presenting the results at the first of a series of "name-and-shame" seminars involving government officials and NGOs, environment commissioner Margot Wallström said a proposal to revise the directive would emerge early next year. The revision would primarily update pollution measurement parameters in the light of new guidelines being produced by the World Health Organisation, she said. A Finnish government official said the revision was urgent as the "true [water quality] values are not seen" under the present monitoring system. The commissioner also promised to "definitely consider" an NGO proposal for a wider EU beach quality information scheme including more than just water quality indicators.

Follow Up:
European Commission, tel: +32 2 299 1111; see also press release IP/00/552 dated 30 May on Rapid and the bathing water quality results.

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