Italy prosecuted for lack of sewage treatment in Milan

The European Commission has taken Italy to the Court of Justice due to its lack of sufficient treatment for wastewater from the city of Milan, now the largest European conurbation that still lacks basic water treatment.

Milan had been required, under the Urban Wastewater Treatment Directive, to provide tertiary treatment by the end of 1998. However, waste from 2.7 million inhabitants still flows untreated into a tributary of the River Po, and from there into the Po delta 300km away, which has been declared a sensitive area. Three new water treatment facilities have still not been completed, although their construction is now being speeded up by the declaration of a state of emergency by the Italian government.

In its defence, Italy pointed out that Milan’s wastewater is not being discharged directly into the sensitive area. “The argument assumes that, according to the Directive, it is legitimate to exclude from any treatment the waste from a large city such as Milan merely because the waste is not discharged directly into a sensitive area,” says Advocate General Francis Jacobs. “…it can make no difference in my view whether the waste is discharged directly or indirectly into a sensitive area.”

A final court judgement is expected to follow in several months.

The Commission has also recently sent second written warnings to Italy, as well as to Ireland, with regard to failure to comply with the Waste Framework Directive, for failing to comply with the Directive’s requirements with regard to landfills in Milan and Frosinone. “European citizens are entitled to receive an assurance that waste will be disposed of safely and in a controlled manner,” said Environment Commissioner Margot Wallström. “It is very worrying to find situations in Ireland and Italy where such an assurance is still lacking.”

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