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Report: European bathing water quality remains high

BRUSSELS (AP) — The quality of bathing waters in Europe remains high according to a study by the EU environment agency that found that minimum water quality standards were met at 95 percent of the sites monitored across the continent last year.

The European Environment Agency, or EEA, said on Monday that on the 22,295 sites that were scrutinized, 84.6 percent had excellent water quality. The study covered the 27-nation bloc, the U.K., Albania and Switzerland.

After nearly three months of coronavirus lockdowns, European citizens will be hoping to make the most of their beaches, lakes and rivers as the EU prepares to lift border controls inside its territory by the end of June.

“Clean bathing water is usually taken as something that is gifted, but it's actually one of the European collective achievements," said Virginijus Sinkevičius, the EU commissioner in charge of the environment.

“It's the result of hard work by many people over many years. This year's report once again confirms that European citizens can continue to enjoy very high quality standards when bathing in European waters and all measures must be taken to continue along this path."

A country-by-country breakdown showed that in five nations — Cyprus, Austria, Malta, Greece, and Croatia — at least 95 percent of bathing waters were of excellent quality. Of all the countries monitored, Poland was the only one with less than 50 percent of its bathing waters rated as excellent.

The EEA said the quality of bathing waters is generally better at coastal locations than at inland sites, with 87.4% of coastal bathing sites classified as excellent, compared with 79.1% of inland sites in the EU.

“Many central European inland bathing water sites are situated on relatively small lakes and ponds as well as low-flow rivers, which, especially in the summer, are more susceptible than coastal areas to short-term pollution caused by heavy summer rains,” the EEA said.

The agency also noticed a drop in the total of locations where bad water quality can result in illness. Just 1.3 percent of all sites in the EU got a poor rating last year, compared with 2 percent in 2013. In six European countries — Albania, Estonia, Hungary, Ireland, the Netherlands and Slovakia — 3% or more of bathing waters were of poor quality.

Under the the European bathing water directive, bathing must be permanently prohibited or explicitly advised against at locations rated as poor for at least five straight years. “In 2019, this was the case for 55 bathing waters: 36 in Italy, eight in Spain, four in the United Kingdom, two in France, and one in Czechia, Denmark, Ireland, the Netherlands and Sweden respectively," the EEA said.

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