By Jean Christou
CYPRUS and Luxembourg were the only two EU countries to score 100 per cent in a survey of bathing waters around the bloc.
“All the bathing sites in Cyprus and Luxembourg were deemed ‘excellent’,” said a statement from the Commission.
The water at Europe’s beaches, rivers and lakes was generally of high quality in 2013, with more than 95 per cent of sites meeting minimum requirements. Coastal performed slightly better than inland bathing waters, the data showed.
In 2013, 112 bathing waters were tested in Cyprus, all coastal. A total of 967 samples were taken throughout the year – nine samples from the same waters on average. All were classified as ‘excellent’.
Cyprus and Luxembourg were followed on the list by Malta with 99 per cent excellence, Croatia 95 per cent, and Greece 93 per cent.
At the other end of the scale, European Union Member States with the highest proportion of sites with a ‘poor’ status were Estonia, which scored 6.0 per cent on the excellence scale, the Netherlands 5.0 per cent, Belgium 4.0 per cent, France, Spain and Ireland 3.0 per cent.
The annual bathing water quality report from the European Environment Agency (EEA) tracks the water quality at 22,000 bathing sites across the EU, Switzerland and, for the first time, Albania. Alongside the report, the EEA has published an interactive map showing how each bathing site performed in 2013.
Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik said: “It’s good that the quality of European bathing waters continues to be of a high standard. But we cannot afford to be complacent with such a precious resource as water. We must continue to ensure that our bathing and drinking water as well as our aquatic ecosystems are fully protected.”
Hans Bruyninckx, EEA Executive Director, said: “Europe’s bathing water has improved over the last two decades – we are no longer discharging such high quantities of sewage directly into water bodies. Today’s challenge comes from short-term pollution loads during heavy rain and flooding. This can overflow sewage systems and wash faecal bacteria from farmland into the rivers and seas.”
Local authorities monitor the samples at local beaches, collecting samples in the spring and throughout the bathing season. Bathing waters are can be rated ‘excellent’, ‘good’, ‘sufficient’ or ‘poor’. The ratings are based on levels of two types of bacteria which indicate pollution from sewage or livestock. These bacteria can cause illness (vomiting and diarrhoea) if swallowed.
Bathing water ratings do not consider litter, pollution and other aspects harming the natural environment. While most bathing sites are clean enough to protect human health, many of the ecosystems in Europe’s water bodies are in a worrying state, the Commission said. This is evident in Europe’s seas – a recent assessment found that Europe’s marine ecosystems are threatened by climate change, pollution, overfishing and acidification. Many of these pressures are set to increase.