Member states accused of ‘cheating’ on bathing-water quality

The vast majority of bathing sites across the European Union came up to EU hygiene standards in 2006, reveals the Commission’s annual bathing-water report released on 31 May. However, the member states’ good performances may be due to their practice of withdrawing polluted sites from those subject to the Directive’s standards. 

Some 96% of coastal bathing areas and 89% of bathing sites in rivers and lakes are in compliance with mandatory EU values. However, the Commission remains concerned about the number of sites being removed from official national lists each year, accusing some member states of continuing to declassify problematic sites instead of tackling pollution at source. 

Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said: “It is encouraging to see that the rate of compliance of freshwater bathing areas in 2006 has recovered from the decrease in 2005.” Expressing his wish for this upward trend to continue, Dimas hopes that “freshwater bathing areas reach levels achieved by…coastal areas”. The EU-15 countries continue to have higher rates of compliance than the new member states. 

Declaring himself “very concerned” by the number of bathing sites withdrawn from the list, Dimas claimed that “removing sites from the list because they are polluted is not a solution”. Instead, he believes that “member states must…draw up plans for cleaning up these polluted sites.” 

The Commission suspects that some bathing sites are being taken off the list of sites in order to cover up pollution problems and artificially improve compliance results, without actually attempting to tackle the problem at source – indeed, it has opened infringement cases against 11 member states over such de-listing. Last year, member states removed 88 coastal and 166 freshwater bathing zones from the list. 

The report provides useful water quality information for the millions of people who visit Europe’s beaches every summer. Every year, member states are obliged to report on the quality of coastal and freshwater bathing areas located within their territory. To determine quality, bathing waters are tested against a variety of physical, chemical and microbiological parameters set out as mandatory values in the Bathing Water Directive. Bathing areas are zones where bathing is explicitly authorised – or “traditionally practised” by a large number of bathers. 

 

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