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EU sewers still not up to standard. (Urban Issues).

It was not the best news for Europe's major urban areas. At a March 2001 seminar on the European Commission's (EC) Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive, environment commissioner Margot Wallstrom chided several European towns and cities, including the EC's hometown of Brussels, for not implementing the directive's requirements on time.

Some of the "named and shamed" cities, as Wallstrom called them, still discharge untreated wastewater into the environment in violation of the 1991 directive's deadlines. Others have failed to keep the EC adequately informed on issues such as identifying sensitive areas and building primary and secondary treatment plants. "The environment of the EU [European Union] would look different if legislation was enforced in member states," said Wallstrom.

The directive is meant to reduce nutrient output from industrial and municipal sources and improve the quality of drinking water throughout EU member states. The directive established three principal deadlines: install stringent collection and treatment systems for designated sensitive water areas (those that are eutrophic or otherwise seriously polluted by wastewater) by the end of 1998, establish secondary systems in larger cities by the end of 2000, and establish secondary systems in all cities by the end of 2005.

Most member states missed the first two deadlines and have been slow to inform the EC on their progress, although Denmark and Austria are now close to compliance with the 1998 deadline. France and Germany are especially delinquent, but no French or German cities are cited on the EC's list because their governments failed to provide the commission with data on which to assess their adherence to the directive.

In April, the EC referred Spain to the European Court of Justice and sent written warnings to France and the United Kingdom for failing to meet the 1998 deadline to identify sensitive water areas. The commission also warned Germany about its inadequate legislation to help meet the directive's deadlines. The EC further noted that member states have "proceeded in a restrictive fashion when designating sensitive areas and have not taken into account the fact that discharged wastewater migrates and contributes to the level of pollution downstream."

"From the very beginning, many of the member state governments weren't aware of the real implications of the directive," says Francis Rillaerts, secretary-general of Eureau, a Brussels-based association of scientific and technical organizations concerned with drinking water quality and wastewater. "A lot of investment has been made quickly in the last three or four years. But in many cases, it's just been too late."

Of the EU countries cited, the United Kingdom boasts the most towns and cities on the list. But not all of the 11 U.K. cities deserve their place on the list, says Kate Hutchinson, a coastal pollution officer for the Marine Conservation Society, an environmental group based in Ross-on-Wye. "The commission is definitely justified in smacking the United Kingdom on the wrist," Hutchinson says, "because the government always had the attitude towards environmental directives to wait until the last minute. On the other hand, the data the commission used for its `named and shamed' list was two to three years old, and some of the cities on the list have since come up to standard or have major works in progress."

As proof that the commission's directive works, Wallstrom reports that in many of Europe's rivers and lakes where the requirements have been implemented, water quality has improved significantly. Not in Belgium's capital city, however--the EC has warned its host country that it will face judiciary proceedings if Brussels fails to adhere to the directive. Belgium just began treating wastewater last fall and currently plans to complete its secondary treatment plant in 2004-2005, nearly five years past the deadline.

The Named and Shamed

Belgium: Brussels

Greece: Elefsina-Aspropyrgos, Patrai

Ireland: Cork, Dundalk

Italy: Foce Sarno, Imperia Foce Impero, Medio Sarno, Merano, Milan, Misterbianco, Taranto

Portugal: Barreiro, Costa do Estoril, Cova da Beira, Matosinhos, Porto Setubal, Vila Nova de Gaia

Spain: Alginet, Cadiz, Donostia-San Sebastian, Gijon, La Coruna, Logrono, Tui

United Kingdom: Bebington, Brighton, Dover-Folkestone, Dundee, Hastings, Hull, Middlesbrough, Port Talbot, Portsmouth, Sunderland-Whitburn, Torbay
COPYRIGHT 2001 National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences
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Author:Clay, Rebecca
Publication:Environmental Health Perspectives
Date:Nov 1, 2001
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