1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites
European beachgoers can romp in the waves without fear of health risks -- at least not from the water.Image: AP

Europe's Waters Safe for Swimmers

June 10, 2003

Vacationers in Europe will be relieved to know that most bathing waters in the EU are clean. The seaside, in particular, is mainly free from pollution, a recent report on water quality shows.


Parents can send their offspring into the waves with a clear conscience this summer, since a report revealed the quality of bathing waters in most of the European Union's coasts and lakes was very high.

The continent's most popular beach holiday destinations, Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain, complied more than 96 percent with EU water quality directives, an EU study published late last week shows. But Germany and France didn't fulfill the regulations; their water quality has decreased over the past few years.

The results compiled for 2002 showed that 95.8 percent of coastal sites and 91 percent of freshwater sites complied with the EU's compulsory standards, despite the torrential rains and floods that plagued central Europe in August and September 2002. The report took account of samples analyzed in 13,627 coastal beaches and 5,773 freshwater areas

"The impact of water quality on bathers is a clear demonstration of the linkages between environmental quality and human health," EU Environment Commissioner Margot Wallström said while introducing the report. "The susceptibility of children to gastric infections and respiratory illnesses associated with swimming in polluted waters underlined why we need to maintain our vigilance."

Wallström criticized the tendency among some states to ban bathing or strike locations from lists of bathing sites in places that did not meet EU's standards. Instead, she said, states should deal with the causes of pollution.

Poor results in Germany, France

Germany scored lower than the previous year with 97.3 percent compliance for saltwater sites, two percent less than last year. The situation was more dramatic in German lakes, which slid by six percentage points to 83 percent. The drop was reportedly due to heavy rains and floods. Nonetheless, Germany's larger lakes like Bodensee, Chiemsee, Schliersee and Tegernsee, as well as all but two in Berlin were declared safe.

In France compliance rates were among the lowest for all EU countries. Only 87.5 percent of coastal waters and 89.6 percent of freshwater sites complied with the EU directive. The Netherlands, by contrast, displayed the EU's highest standards, with 100 percent of all waters fully compliant.

The Bathing Water Directive established in 1976 looks mainly at fecal contamination and whether the water looks appealing to swim in. Samples are supposed to be taken every two weeks as well as a fortnight before the local bathing season begins.

Skip next section Explore more
Skip next section DW's Top Story

DW's Top Story

A Ukrainian tank stuck in the mud

Ukraine counteroffensive: When will the mud season end?

Skip next section More stories from DW
Go to homepage