Zero Pollution: Vast majority of Europe’s bathing waters meet the highest quality standards

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article is brought to you in association with the European Commission.


The annual Bathing Water report published today shows that in 2020 almost 83% of Europe’s bathing water sites met the European Union’s most stringent ‘excellent’ water quality standards. The latest assessment, put together by the European Environment Agency (EEA) in cooperation with the European Commission, is based on the 2020 monitoring of 22,276 bathing sites across Europe. These cover the EU Member States, Albania and Switzerland throughout 2020.

The share of ‘excellent’ coastal and inland swimming sites has stabilised in recent years at around 85% and in 2020 was 82.8% across Europe. The minimum ‘sufficient’ water quality standards were met at 93% of the sites monitored in 2020, and in five countries – Cyprus, Austria, Greece, Malta and Croatia – 95 % or more bathing waters were of excellent quality.

Virginijus Sinkevičius, Commissioner for the Environment, Fisheries and Oceans, said: “Bathing water quality in Europe remains high and it’s a good news for Europeans, who will be heading to beaches and bathing sites this summer. This is the result of more than 40 years of Bathing Water Directive, hard work by dedicated professionals and cooperation. The Zero Pollution Action Plan adopted in May will help to keep the waters healthy and safe and our seas and rivers clean.”

Hans Bruyninckx, EEA Executive Director, said: “The quality of European bathing waters remains high after four decades of action aimed at preventing and reducing pollution. EU law has not only helped raised the overall quality, but also helped identify areas where specific action is needed.

Two thirds of bathing sites are located along Europe’s coasts. The results give a good indication as to where swimmers can find the best quality bathing waters. The quality of several bathing waters could not be classified in the current assessment, as pandemic restrictions led to an inadequate number of samples being collected.

In 2020, 296 or 1.3% of bathing water sites in Europe were of poor quality. While the share of poor quality sites has dropped slightly since 2013, problems persist especially in assessing the sources of pollution and putting in place integrated water management measures. At bathing sites for which the origins or causes of pollution are difficult to identify, special studies of pollution sources are needed.

As part of the Zero Pollution Action Plan and in line with the Biodiversity Strategy the Commission has recently launched a review of the Bathing Water Directive. The objective is to assess whether the current rules are still fit for purpose to protect public health and improve water quality or if there is a need to improve the existing framework, notably by addressing new parameters. As a part of this process, the Commission will soon engage with the stakeholder community via an online public consultation.

The findings of this year’s report will be presented on 2 June at a session during EU Green Week, focusing this year on zero pollution. Alongside this year’s Bathing Water Report, the EEA has also released an updated interactive map showing the performance of each bathing site. Updated country reports are also available, as well as more information on the implementation of the directive in countries.

Background

The quality of Europe’s bathing water has greatly improved over the past 40 years, also thanks to the EU’s Bathing Water Directive. Effective monitoring and management introduced under the Directive, combined with other EU environmental law such as the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive (1991), led to a drastic reduction in untreated or partially treated municipal and industrial waste water ending up in bathing water. As a result, an increasing number of sites have witnessed pollution reduction, leading to considerably improved water quality. The  ongoing revision of the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive is assessing how, across the EU, better action can be taken to deal consistently with sewage overflows, especially in light of climate change impacts.

All EU Member States, plus Albania and Switzerland, monitor their bathing sites according to the provisions of the EU’s Bathing Water Directive.

The legislation specifies if the bathing water quality can be classified as ‘excellent’, ‘good’, ‘sufficient’ or ‘poor’, depending on the levels of faecal bacteria detected. Where water is classified as ‘poor’, EU Member States should take certain measures, such as banning bathing or advising against it, providing information to the public, and taking suitable corrective actions.

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