Quality European bathing water?

United, Switzerland and Albania officially have 22,276 bathing areas on their coasts, rivers and inland lakes. The annual report on the quality of these waters just published by the European Environment Agency trumpet: 93% of these beaches meet the minimum standards of bacteriological pollution that states must apply under penalty of closure for health reasons. There are mainly two pathogenic bacteria required: Escherichia coland intestinal enterococci that cause gastroenteritis, ear infections, conjunctivitis. The first measurement must be made at the very beginning of the season, and then four analyzes must be carried out during the summer months at intervals of less than a month. This procedure has been in force since 2015 and entry into force Bathing Water Quality Directive of 2006.

Official map of France, all blue or almost, for bathing water quality. Copyright MTE

Given the results, 85% of coastal areas and 77% of freshwater bathing areas receive the maximum “excellent” classification, distinguishing them from only “good” or “sufficient” places and, of course, from “poor” below the thresholds. France is not a very good student. 3,328 bathing waters were analyzed (2,055 on the shores, 1,273 inland). 2,578 are considered “excellent”, 473 “good”, 113 “sufficient” and 78 “insufficient”. That is to say a rate of 77.5% for excellence, below the European average. While five countries continue to dominate the top of the rankings, first is Cyprus (100% excellent water), followed by Austria, Greece, Malta and Croatia, France ranks 19th as in previous editions. Thus, in 2020, three beaches in France were banned from swimming. You can check the ranking of your favorite beach on the website government.

Only bacteriology is considered as long as there are chemical measures

Even if results have stagnated since 2015, the European Commission welcomes such a compliance rate. This is the result of national obligations to be applied Urban Wastewater Directive (ERU) 1991. This sets out the minimum levels of performance that Member States must achieve in wastewater treatment. Thirty years after adoption, investments remain significant in both collection and treatment. This year’s report welcomes the fact that swimming is again possible on the Danube in Vienna and Budapest, in the Spree in Berlin, in the Daugava in Riga (Latvia) and in the ports of Amsterdam and Copenhagen. Paris wants to open the Seine in 2024 for the Olympics.

It is this concert of congratulations Surfrider Foundation. The association specializing in coastal planning, water waste and coastal water quality and user health highlights shortcomings in the existing system. “We believe that the measures should be extended to all areas used for recreation, such as kayaking or rowing at sea, and analyzes should be done throughout the year, not just so that managers have a real idea of ​​the state of the natural environment. “ claims Marc Valmassoni, an expert at Surfrider.

“Good environmental status” that is hard to come by

The association is also surprised that we continue to measure only bacteriological contaminants as chemical contamination data begins to become available. Water Framework Directive (WFD) adopted in 2000 and overseeing the Bathing Water Directive, indeed imposes a whole process of analyzing the hairlines of rivers and coastal areas to find and reduce 45 priority pollutants (heavy metals, pesticides, hydrocarbons, etc.) and achieve good physical chemical condition, ie low levels of nitrate, phosphorus, suspended solids and good oxygenation of water. Member States should have achieved “good ecological status” for their “water bodies”, homogeneous marine or terrestrial areas by 2015. In reality, the target has been postponed to 2027 due to slow progress. In France, 36% of water bodies are affected by agricultural activities, 21% do not have enough treatment and 21% are under pressure for their flow (retention, straightening of paths). Rehabilitation actions are carried out Water Development and Management Master Plans (SDAGE).

What we see, continues Marc Valmassoni, is that we know the chemical status of bathing water, but that this is not taken into account in their classification, water without bacteriological contamination which may be affected by potentially dangerous substances “. The application of the Framework Directive involves a very precise measurement of the impact of chemical pollutants, to which drug residues, nanomaterials and microplastics on living organisms are now added. The European text thus provides a very precise list of marine molluscs, crustaceans and worms to be analyzed. But nothing on the man. “We started with Ifremer reviewing scientific articles on the impact of sea pollution on people and found almost nothing. ” Marc Valmassoni asks.

Surfers will be equipped with chemical sensors this year

This opens up a stunning field of research. In cooperation with Laboratory of Excellence (Labex) COTE from the University of Bordeaux and Ifremer, the association will equip surfing members with chemical sensors to better understand the environment in which summer visitors bathe. “As of this summer, a dozen surfers will be training their sport with these devices in Brittany, the Mediterranean and the South Atlantic. “ announces Marc Valmassoni. Once the human body is exposed to these substances, it will be possible to determine whether there is – or not – a health risk.

Recognized for its work on data collection in the areas visited by its surfing members, Surfrider is one of the associations with which the European Union consults very early in its legal initiatives. However, the Commission of Ursula Von der Layen has just put on its agenda a revision of the bathing water directive. The first meeting took place in late March which can be seen again at Youtube. Surfrider officially introduced his “manifesto”. Extending controls, introducing chemical parameters, pollution prevention obligations, the text requires a complete revision of the directive. After taking into account the opinion of associations, the European Commission should start a public debate during the summer of 2021. An opportunity for all citizens to give their opinion on the sanitary quality of vacation spots.

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