Europe makes ‘significant progress’ in urban wastewater treatment

Most of Europe has made significant progress on urban wastewater treatment, according to the first report on the implementation of the Urban Waster Water Directive. Only Brussels and Milan have been unable to respect the Directive's main deadline of 31/12/1998 - they still have no wastewater treatment at all.


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The 31 December 1998 was the European deadline for providing collection and advanced treatment systems in all agglomerations of more than 10,000 population equivalents discharging to sensitive waters.

This deadline covers over one-third of European wastewater and was also the deadline for regulating the disposal of sludge from wastewater treatment and phasing out the disposal of sludge to surface waters.
Discharges of sludge to the sea were the usual way of disposal in Spain, Ireland and the UK. The two subsequent deadlines are: 31/12/2000 when agglomerations of more than 15,000 population equivalents that discharge into water areas which are less sensitive should provide for collection and secondary (i.e. biological) treatment. On 31/12/2005 also the smaller agglomerations should comply with the Directive.

The EU-wide costs of the implementation has been estimated to euro 150 billion during the period 1993-2005.

According to the Commission, the report’s findings “reflect the serious intention of most Member States to tackle the issue of urban waste water in order to improve the quality of aquatic environment for the benefit of public health and the environment”.

However, two notable exceptions stand out: Brussels and Milan. In Brussels untreated wastewater from the entire agglomeration is discharged directly to the river Senne which, within the city district, has been covered to avoid diseases and smells, but downstream of Brussels can be considered more of an open sewer than a river. The Senne feeds into the river Schelde, which pollutes the heavily eutrophic coastal waters of the North Sea. According to the Belgian authorities, the collection and treatment network of Brussels will not fulfil the requirements of the Directive before 2003 or 2004 – a delay of some 5-6 years.

In Milan, all the wastewater of the agglomeration (nearly 3 million population equivalent) is discharged directly into the river Lambro, a tributary of the river Po. The river Lambro is considered one of the most polluted rivers in Italy. The adverse effect of the river Lambro on the Po is significant because bathing or irrigation has been forbidden, and fish cannot survive. The Adriatic Sea is heavily eutrophic due partially to the pollution discharged from the river Po. Milan’s wastewater will not be treated before 2003, according to information given by the Italian authorities.

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