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You are here: Home / Environmental topics / Water / Water pollution / Point sources

Point sources

Point sources, such as discharges from the treatment of urban wastewater, industry and fish farms are defined as stationary locations or fixed facilities from which pollutants are discharged.

Point source pollution

Discharges from wastewater treatment plants and industry cause pollution by oxygen consuming substances, nutrients and hazardous substances. The adverse impacts depend very strongly upon the degree to which (if at all) such discharges are treated before reaching waterways.


In 2002, 90 % of the EU-25 population were connected to sewage networks. However, some of this wastewater is discharged either without or with only limited treatment. Regional differences in sewage treatment exist. For example, in the central European and Nordic countries more than 90 % of the population is connected to wastewater treatment plants, while the percentage in southern Europe and new Member States varies between 50-80 %. Some large cities discharge their wastewater nearly untreated such as Cork, Barcelona, Brigthon and Milan (COM, 2004).

Over the last twenty years, marked increases have occurred both in the proportion of the population connected to wastewater treatment as well as in wastewater treatment technology. In the central Europe and the Nordic countries most wastewater now receives tertiary treatment (i.e. removal of nutrients), while in the southern and new Member States countries most waste-water receives secondary treatment, primarily by the removal of organic matter.

In general, discharges of pollutants from point sources have decreased significantly over the past 30 years. The changes are mainly due to improved purification of urban wastewater and reduced industrial discharges. In western European countries, purification is now very effective and eastern European countries are now following a similar development.

The following page describe:

Publications and links


Urban waste water treatment

Kid's introduction to water pollution

The Eco Agents website offers information about the environment for kids.

European Environment Agency, 2005:

Effectiveness of urban wastewater treatment policies in selected countries: An EEA pilot study, EEA 2/2005, Copenhagen

Source apportionment of nitrogen and phosphorus inputs to the aquatic environment, draft report, EEA, Copenhagen

CEC/ DG environment: Urban waste water treatment

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