Bathing Water Directive 76/160/EEC, and its proposed revision
The European Commission's
Water Directive (76/160/EEC) is concerned with protecting
human health and the environment from pollution.
water is defined as 'those fresh or sea waters in which bathing is
either explicitly authorised ... or is not prohibited and is
traditionally practiced by large numbers of bathers'.
The Directive lists
19 physical, chemical and microbiological parameters, some of
which are I (Imperative) values and others G (Guideline)
values. Member States must set values for bathing water
which are no less than the I values, whilst the G values are seen
as desirable targets.
The Directive contains minimum sampling frequencies and reference
methods of analysis.
(or Imperative) standards, which should not be exceeded are:
10,000 total coliforms per
100ml of water
2,000 faecal coliforms per
100ml of water
In order for a bathing water to
comply with the Directive, 95% of samples (i.e. at least 19 of the
20 taken) must meet these standards, plus other criteria.
The higher G (Guideline)
standards, which should be achieved where possible, are:
more than 500 total coliforms per 100ml of water, and
more than 100 faecal coliforms per 100ml of water in at least
80% of samples (i.e. 16 or more of the 20), and
more than 100 faecal streptococci per 100ml of water in at
least 90% of sample (i.e. 18 or more of the 20).
The Directive was implemented in
England and Wales by the Bathing Water Regulations 1991.
principal effect of the Directive has been to
prevent, or at least minimise, the presence of sewage sludge in
waters intended for bathing.
A revised Directive has been
proposed which will simplify and consolidate the existing
Directive and take account of technical
progress and new knowledge. Based on epidemiological
research and experience from the implementation of the current
Directive, the revised version aims to modernise the management of
The proposal was adopted by the
European Commission on 24 October 2002. It
makes use of only two bacteriological indicator parameters, but
sets a higher health standard than the 1976/160 Directive targeting
health standards relating to faecal pollution (the primary cause
The classification of a beach's water quality
will be determined on the basis of a three-year trend rather than
one year's results and so will be less susceptible to bad weather
conditions or "one-off" incidents. It will also
allow beaches with exceptionally good water quality to
exploit/capitalise on the situation.