Mercury: a persistent threat to the environment and people's health

Many people still associate mercury with thermometers and most also know that it is toxic. Because of its toxicity, mercury is on its way out from products in Europe but a lot of it is still circulating in air, water, soil and ecosystems. Is mercury still a problem and what is being done about it? We interviewed Ian Marnane, EEA expert on sustainable resource use and industry.

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Close up — Water in the city

We often take a reliable supply of clean water for granted. We turn on the tap and clean water comes out, we use it and the ‘dirty’ water goes down the drain. For a large majority of Europeans, the water we use at home is of drinking quality and available 24 hours a day. The brief moment between the tap and the drain is only a very small part of its overall journey. Managing water in a city is not limited to public water systems. Climate change, urban sprawl and alterations to river basins can all lead to more frequent and damaging floods in cities, leaving authorities faced with an ever-growing challenge.

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Interview — The Dutch make room for the river

Nature and water go hand in hand. This is the thinking behind the Dutch Room for the River programme. This back-to-basics approach now serves as a global model in terms of water management and protection against increased risks of flooding linked to climate change. The most recent extreme floods in 1993 and 1995 served as a wake-up call, according to Willem Jan Goossen from the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management. We asked him what the programme represents in terms of sustainable flood protection.

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Climate change and water — Warmer oceans, flooding and droughts

Climate change is increasing the pressure on water bodies. From floods and droughts to ocean acidification and rising sea levels, the impacts of climate change on water are expected to intensify in the years ahead. These changes are prompting action across Europe. Cities and regions are already adapting, using more sustainable, nature-based solutions to lessen the impact of floods and using water in smarter, more sustainable ways to enable us to live with droughts.

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Water use in Europe — Quantity and quality face big challenges

Europeans use billions of cubic metres of water every year not only for drinking water, but also for use in farming, manufacturing, heating and cooling, tourism and other service sectors. With thousands of freshwater lakes, rivers and underground water sources available, the supply of water in Europe may seem limitless. But population growth, urbanisation, pollution and the effects of climate change, such as persistent droughts, are putting a huge strain on Europe’s water supplies and on its quality.

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Governance — Water on the move

Water is in constant motion. Water also facilitates the movement of ships, fish and all other animals and plants living in water. The health of rivers, lakes and oceans has to take into account water’s movements across geopolitical borders. Given this, regional and international cooperation has been deeply embedded in the European Union’s water-related policies since the 1970s.

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Clean water is life, health, food, leisure, energy…

Water covers more than 70 % of Earth’s surface. It was in water that life on Earth started, so it is not surprising that all living things on our blue planet need water. Water is in fact many things: it is a vital need, a home, a local and global resource, a transport corridor and a climate regulator. And, over the last two centuries, it has become the end of the journey for many pollutants released to nature and a newly discovered mine rich in minerals to be exploited. To continue enjoying the benefits of clean water and healthy oceans and rivers, we need to fundamentally change the way we use and treat water.

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Life under water faces serious threats

Life in Europe’s freshwater bodies and regional seas is not doing well. The poor state of ecosystems has a direct impact on many animals and plants living in water, and it affects other species and humans, depending on clean water. The state of Europe’s seas is dire, mainly due to overfishing and climate change, while freshwater bodies suffer from excess nutrients and altered habitats. Chemical pollution negatively impacts both freshwater and marine environments.

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Close up — An ocean of plastics

Mass-produced plastics were introduced around the middle of the last century as a miracle material — light, mouldable, durable and strong. Since then, the production of plastics has increased rapidly, bringing many benefits to society. Now, some 70 years later, annual plastics production is more than 300 million tonnes, and we have begun to understand the true legacy of these products: they never fully ‘disappear’ from the environment.

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Interview — Malta: water scarcity is a fact of life

Malta is one of the top 10 water-scarce countries in the world. What to do when nature provides only half of the water your population needs? Malta ‘produces’ clean water and tries to make sure that not one drop is wasted. We talked to Manuel Sapiano, from the Energy and Water Agency in Malta, about new technologies, water for households and agriculture, and the pristine bathing waters surrounding the island.

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Towards healthy and productive seas in Europe and beyond

Marine life, the global climate and our economy and social wellbeing all depend on healthy seas. Despite some improvements, our assessments show that the way we currently use Europe’s seas remains unsustainable. Climate change and competition for natural resources add extra pressures on the marine environment. European policies and measures could result in greater improvements when they are implemented through an ‘ecosystem-based management’ approach and are supported by a global ocean governance framework.

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Marine LitterWatch in a nutshell

Litter, plastics in particular, is accumulating in our seas and coasts. Information and data on marine litter is essential for tackling it. The European Environment Agency has developed Marine LitterWatch to strengthen Europe’s knowledge base and thus provide support to European policy making.

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European citizens to help tackle marine litter

Litter, plastics in particular, is accumulating in our seas and coasts mainly due to current unsustainable consumption and production patterns, poor waste management and the lack of public awareness. Marine litter is an increasing threat to the marine environment, to human health and our well-being. It has cross border impacts on wildlife and habitats. Without tackling marine litter, Europe cannot have healthy seas.

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Water in the city

Water in the city

28 Aug 2012

With population growth, urbanisation and economic development, the demand for freshwater in urban areas are increasing throughout Europe. At the same time, climate change and pollution are also affecting the availability of water for city residents. How can Europe's cities continue providing clean freshwater to their residents?

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Water for agriculture

Water for agriculture

03 Jul 2012

We need food and we need clean freshwater to produce our food. With growing demand from human activities on the one hand and climate change on the other, many regions especially in the south struggle to find enough freshwater to meet their needs. How can we continue growing food without letting nature go thirsty for clean water? A more efficient use of water in agriculture would certainly help.

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Local and global

Local and global

04 Jun 2012

When faced with scarcity or increasing pressures on vital resources such as water and land, the question of who decides can be as important as how natural resources are managed and used. Global coordination is often essential but without local endorsement and involvement, nothing can be done on the ground.

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Getting the price ‘right’?

Many developing country economies are centred on exploiting natural resources to lift their populations out of poverty, potentially damaging the natural systems they depend on. Short-term solutions often undermine the population’s well-being in the long-term. Can governments help the markets set the ‘right’ price for nature’s services and influence economic choices? Here is a closer look at what water use in cotton production means for Burkina Faso.

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Europe's water: efficient use is a must

Clean water is a natural resource vital not only for life on Earth but also for the wellbeing of our societies and economy. However, in many parts of Europe, this valuable resource is coming under increasing pressure, often seen in the form of over-exploitation and pollution.

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Looking beneath the surface: how good is our water?

Water is critical for life and is integral to virtually all economic activities, including food production and industry. Not only is clean water a prerequisite for human health and well-being, it provides aquatic habitats that support healthy freshwater ecosystems.

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