Urban waste water treatment
Assessment made on 01 May 2004
ClassificationWater (Primary theme)
- WEU 016
Policy issue: Are discharges from urban waste water treatment plants (households and small industries) being reduced?
Wastewater treatment in all parts of Europe has improved significantly since the 1980s.
In several countries in north-western Europe there has been a marked increase in the population connected to tertiary waste water treatment in the 1990s resulting in marked reductions in phosphorus and nitrogen discharges.
However the percentage of population connected to waste water treatment is relatively low in southern Europe and in the Accession countries.
Over the last twenty years, marked changes have occurred in the proportion of the population connected to wastewater treatment as well as in the wastewater treatment technology involved. In northern countries most of the population are today connected to wastewater treatment plants with tertiary treatment, which efficiently removes nutrients (nitrogen or phosphorus or both) and organic matter from the wastewater. In the central Europe countries more than half of the wastewater is treated by tertiary treatment. Southern countries and the Accession countries only have around half of the population connected to wastewater treatment plants at the moment. 30 to 40 % of the population are connected to secondary or tertiary treatment. These changes have resulted in improvement of the state of water bodies with a decrease in concentration of orthophosphates, total ammonium and organic matter over the past ten years. For nitrate however no clear trend can be found at a national level though at the monitoring station level a decrease in concentration can be found at some stations. In the EU these decreases are linked with the implementation of European legislation. In the Accession Countries decreases are due to the general increase in the level and extent of waste water treatment and because of the recession associated with the transition to market-oriented economies (see WEU2). The increase in the proportion of the population connected to waste water treatment, as well as in the level of treatment, leads in turn to an increase in the quantities of sewage sludge produced. This sludge has to be disposed of, mainly through spreading on soils, to landfills or by incineration: these disposal routes can transfer pollution from water to soil or air.
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This briefing is part of the EEA's report The European Environment - State and Outlook 2015. The EEA is an official agency of the EU, tasked with providing information on Europe’s environment.
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