Thursday

25th Feb 2021

Europe's waters safe for swimming

  • 100 percent of Greece's coastal waters meet mandatory standards and stricter voluntary standards (Photo: EUobserver)

It's the season for getting the trunks out of the cupboard or buying a new bikini and heading to the beach, and Europeans and tourists that visit the continent can take a plunge knowing that most bathing waters in the European Union are safe for a swim.

After a slight dip in the number of places safe to take a dip in 2007, the cleanliness of sea sides, river banks and watering holes was back on track and improving in 2008 - the latest year for which there are figures.

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The uptick is in line with a two-decade long trend of otherwise steadily improving waters, according to the European Commission's annual publication of a report on bathing water quality, put together by the European Environment Agency.

The report is based on results supplied by authorities in each member state, of tests for the presence of faecal bacteria, residues of petrol-based mineral oils, detergent, toxic acids such as phenol and overall water colour. Other tests can investigate the presence of salmonella in the water, and its acidity.

Member state authorities are encouraged to publish data for 2009 within weeks of having received it, but this is not required.

Some 96.8 percent of coastal bathing waters in the EU complied with mandatory safety rules in 2008, an increase of 1.1 percent on 2007, according to the report put out on Thursday (11 June).

Meanwhile 88.6 percent of coastal waters complied with what are termed "guide values" - thresholds that are more stringent but not mandatory. This is up 2.5 percent on 2007.

The safety of inland waters was up last year as well. More than nine in ten ponds, lakes and rivers complied with mandatory rules, up 3.3 percent on 2007, while the percentage of inland waters complying with guide values was up 10.7 percent.

Nevertheless, environment commissioner Stavros Dimas, in presenting the report, warned member states that they must clean up their beaches or else face legal action.

"They have to clean the beaches up. If they do not, then they face infringement proceedings from the commission," he told reporters in Brussels.

Poland is the worst country in Europe to go bathing in, whether at the seaside or lakeside, with 14.4 percent of all bathing waters non-compliant with mandatory standards.

Belgium is the second worst, with 10.3 percent, and the pebble-beached UK came third from the bottom, with 4.1 percent of its waters not up to scratch. According to the report, France, Italy, Denmark, Germany and Latvia also had significant number of non-compliant waters.

The scale changes slightly if one splits up non-compliance rates between coastal and inland waters. For coastal waters, Poland had the highest non-compliance rate, at nine percent, followed by Bulgaria, Slovenia, Ireland, and Latvia.

For inland waters, Ireland far and away is the biggest scofflaw, with 33.3 percent not meeting mandatory standards, although it only reports nine spots where people go swimming. Next up the list is Slovenia, on 27.8 percent, followed by Poland, Belgium and the UK.

Additionally, the number of sites at which swimming has been banned in Italy continues to climb, with the number of beaches that had been closed to swimmers amounting to 553 in 2008, up from 300 the year before, 263 in 2006 and 125 in 2002.

Furthermore, while Romania has a relatively high rate of compliance with mandatory standards, on 98 percent, only two percent of its bathing sites meet the stricter guides.

At the other end of the scale, the safest places to go swimming at the seaside are Belgium, Estonia, Cyprus, Lithuania and the Netherlands, all of whom have a 100 percent compliance rate with the mandatory standards. In terms of the stricter guide values, Lithuania, Cyprus, Greece, France and Malta are the top scorers, with Lithuania the sole country to score a perfect 100 percent compliance rate with both the mandatory standards and guide values.

Six countries have 100 percent compliance with mandatory standards for inland waters: Bulgaria, Estonia, Greece, Lithuania, Luxembourg and Finland. On the tougher guide values scale, Greece, France, Finland, Sweden and Germany are the top scorers, with Greece the sole country to score a perfect 100 percent compliance rate on both set of standards.

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