EU Directive gives UK bathers a cleaner deal

Richard Harrington By: Richard Harrington
Date posted: 12 May 2016

Without forty years of European legislation, we could still be swimming in sewage The tragic death of six year old Caroline Wakefield from polio, contracted after swimming in sewage-contaminated sea off Gosport in 1957, raised the profile of bathing water pollution.

Without forty years of European legislation, we could still be swimming in sewage The tragic death of six year old Caroline Wakefield from polio, contracted after swimming in sewage-contaminated sea off Gosport in 1957, raised the profile of bathing water pollution. This led to changes in monitoring bathing water cleanliness, culminating in the European Bathing Water Directive which was introduced in 1976. When the Directive first came out, the UK claimed it only had 27 bathing waters - fewer than land-locked Luxembourg! This year, forty years down the line, the UK has over 600 designated bathing waters, many of them boasting better water quality than they did in the 1980s. A recently-revised version of the Directive will ensure that information about water quality and pollution events is obvious to beach goers. At beaches with consistently poor water quality, warnings will be posted advising against swimming. MCS fears that, if we left the EU, investment in water quality improvements might wane. “European Directives for bathing waters and sewage treatment have been instrumental in cleaning up water quality at UK beaches, Ø says Rachel Wyatt, MCS Water Quality Programme Manager. “Before the European Bathing Water Directive was introduced, many UK beaches were impacted by continuous untreated sewage discharges - we were literally swimming in poo. In 1988 just over a third of those beaches monitored failed to meet even the minimum standard considered fit for bathing - often unbeknown to beach visitors”. MCS has produced the Good Beach Guide since 1988. In that time, it has been a key driver for improvements to the quality of UK bathing waters, protecting bathing waters and the health of the people that use them.

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