Europe’s bathing waters may not be as good as EU assessment suggests

"Our waters are impacted and polluted by chemicals, plastics and algae. We need to add new parameters to our monitoring and take the opportunity of the revision of the Bathing Water Directive to add them," said Surfrider Foundation spokesperson Antidia Citores. [LiliGraphie/Shutterstock]

With just a few weeks to go before the summer holidays, the EU’s environment agency (EEA) and the  European Commission have presented quite satisfactory results for the bloc’s bathing areas in 2020. However, some environmentalists have warned that this does not reflect “the true reality of our waters”. EURACTIV France reports.

According to the annual report on the quality of Europe’s coastal and inland bathing waters, 93% of EU countries met the required minimum water quality standards in 2020. Cyprus, Austria, Greece, Malta and Croatia top the list with 95% of their bathing waters rated as excellent.

“The quality of bathing water in Europe remains high and this is good news for Europeans who will be visiting beaches and bathing sites this summer,” said EU Environment Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius.

However, according to the Surfrider Europe Foundation, a European organisation that fights to protect seas, rivers, and coasts, these positive results do not reflect the “true reality of our waters”.

“This year again, the results on bathing water quality in Europe are excellent. However, for this to be a reason for satisfaction, these results should also concern recreational waters and depict the true reality of our waters, which is light years away from these results,” explained the foundation’s spokesperson Antidia Citores.

The report covers aquatic areas known as bathing areas, thus excluding areas where only water sports like kayaking are practised.

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Not all polluters taken into account

Another point of disagreement is the fact the report does not take into account certain pollutants found in seas and rivers.

“Our waters are impacted and polluted by chemicals, plastics and algae. We need to add new parameters to our monitoring and take the opportunity of the revision of the Bathing Water Directive to add them,” said Citores.

The EU’s Bathing Water Directive aims to “determine whether the current rules are still adequate to protect public health and improve water quality or whether there is a need to improve the existing framework,” the EEA has said, acknowledging that its current assessment system may need to be adjusted.

Also missing from the assessment for 2020 is the Zero Pollution Action Plan, adopted last May as part of the Commission’s Green Deal, which Sinkevičius noted “will help to keep our waters safe and clean”.

EU countries have already taken measures to improve water quality, including a ban on single-use plastics if alternatives made from other materials are already readily available, as well as aiming for the target of 25% recycled content in plastic bottles by 2025 and 30% by 2030.

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 ‘Too good to be true’

Since 2019, only about 1.3% of all Europe’s bathing sites were deemed by the EEA as being of poor quality – a very low figure given the widespread issues related to sea pollution.

The quality of European bathing waters nevertheless “remains high after four decades of action to prevent and reduce pollution,” said EEA’s executive director, Hans Bruyninckx.

But according to the Surfrider Foundation, it is now high time “to add new parametres to water quality monitoring, chemical pollutants, algal blooms and plastics”, given that it is urgent “to have a true picture of what is in our waters and their impact on our health and our environment.”

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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