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Bathing Water Quality

Indicator Fact Sheet (Deprecated)
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Assessment made on  01 May 2004

Generic metadata


Water Water (Primary theme)

Coasts and seas Coasts and seas

DPSIR: State


Indicator codes
  • WEU 011
Geographic coverage:

Policy issue:  Do we meet the standards of the Bathing Water Directive?

Key messages

  • The quality of water at designated bathing beaches in Europe (coastal and inland) has improved throughout the 1990s. In 2002, 96% of coastal bathing waters and 91% of inland bathing waters complied with the mandatory standards.

  • Despite this improvement, 13% of Europe's coastal bathing waters and 36% of Europe's inland bathing beaches still do not meet (non-mandatory) guide values even though the bathing water directive was adopted almost 25 years ago. In addition studies have shown that even meeting guide values does necessarily protect public health.


Key assessment

The percentage of bathing areas in Europe that were sufficiently sampled which comply with the mandatory values and the guide values in the Directive 76/160/EEC on Bathing Water Quality has increased from 1992 to 2002 for coastal and inland bathing waters (figure 1a and b). In 2002, only The Netherlands has reached 100% compliance with the mandatory standards in coastal waters, even though the legislation has been in place for almost 25 years and despite the investment and improvement in waste water treatment. In some cases the installation of sewage treatment works has not achieved 100% compliance and has identified the importance of diffuse pollution (e.g. Morecambe Bay, UK (Jones et al 1999). In addition, for some of the parameters listed in the directive robust, analytical methodology still has not been developed (e.g. for monitoring viruses). Compliance, therefore, with the mandatory standards (total coliforms, 10,000 per 100ml and faecal coliforms, 2,000 per 100ml) does not necessarily mean that there is no risk to human health. In fact, a number of studies have shown that the concentration of faecal streptococci in bathing water is a more useful indication of the likelihood of illness than faecal coliforms (eg. Cabelli, 1983 and Kay et al, 1994). There is a guide value in the directive for faecal streptococci (100 per 100ml) but Kay et al (1994) found there was a significantly increased risk of gastroenteritis when faecal streptococci was greater than 40ml per 100ml and so even reaching the guide value does not necessarily protect human health.

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