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European wastewater treatment trends 'going in right direction'

Trends in the collection and treatment for urban wastewater treatment in Europe are "going in the right direction" even though big differences remain between EU member states.

Fifteen member states are collecting 100% of their total polluting loadFifteen member states are collecting 100% of their total polluting load

According to the EU figures, Austria, Germany and the Netherlands are among the frontrunners largely meeting EU minimum standards for wastewater treatment, with several others being very close. Newer Member States, starting from a lower baseline, have also improved overall collection and treatment despite lower compliance rates.

This progress comes with significant EU investment support, amounting to €14.3B between 2007-2013.

Environment commissioner Janez Potočnik said: "Wastewater treatment is one of those fundamental tests for society: are we cleaning up the mess we create, or are we fouling the environment we depend upon? I am relieved to see the trends going in the right direction, and I am also happy to see that commission action, a mix of financial support and tough legal action when necessary, has paid dividends for Europe's citizens."

The vast majority (91%) of the pollution load from the EU's big cities receives more stringent treatment, said the report, which is a considerable improvement on the situation in the previous report (77%).

Also, better water treatment and fewer raw sewage discharges into the environment have also improved bathing water quality. In the early 1990s, only around 60% of bathing sites had excellent quality water, whereas the figure is now 78%.

The report, covering 2009-2010, said collection rates were at a very high level, with 15 member states collecting 100% of their total polluting load. All had maintained or improved previous results, although compliance rates remained below 30% in Bulgaria, Cyprus, Estonia, Latvia and Slovenia.

Compliance rates for secondary treatment are 82%, up four points since the previous report. But there were huge differences between the EU-15, where rates were in the range 90-100%, and EU-12, where average compliance was 39%.

The compliance rates for more stringent treatment to combat eutrophication or reduce bacteriological pollution that could affect human health were 77% overall. EU-12 member states averaged only 14%, whereas Austria, Germany, Greece, and Finland reached 100% compliance.

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