Committee Reports::Report No. 15 - Pollution of Bathing Water (Quality Objectives)::02 July, 1975::Report


1. Introduction

The Joint Committee has considered the proposal by the Commission for a Council Directive relating to pollution of sea water and fresh water for bathing (quality objectives)—R/407/75: 11-2-1975. This proposal is being put forward in pursuance of the aims of the Communities’ Programme of Environment Action which was approved by the Council of Ministers on 22nd November, 1973.

The part played by polluted bathing water in the transmission of infectious diseases is being treated as a matter of Community concern because it often has international implications. The pollution itself may move across national frontiers and people from the several States, especially tourists, may suffer the effects of pollution in the localities which they visit or frequent.

2. Provisions of Proposed Directive

The Directive will apply to sea water and fresh water “in which the competent authorities of Member States authorise or tolerate bathing”. Member States will be required to set standards for bathing water corresponding to parameters set out in the draft. There will be different requirements for sea water and fresh water. The standards set must conform to the parametric values which the proposed Directive sets out as mandatory but Member States may lay down more stringent values in accordance with specified guide values and they are to be asked to do so, whenever possible, in the case of bathing waters in which bathing is authorised or tolerated for the first time after the Directive comes into force.

The proposed Directive will require regular monitoring of bathing waters during the bathing season, the frequency of sampling to depend on the mean density of bathers per kilometre of beach or other waterside in the bathing area and the prevailing water temperature. Microbiological examination of the samples will have to be carried out to establish if there are amounts of sewage or fecal matter in the water in excess of those permissible.

Member States will be required to bring the provisions of the Directive into operation within two years of its notification to them and will be allowed eight years from the entry into force of the Directive to bring the quality of bathing water up to the required standards.

The proposed Directive will allow for derogations from its provisions in certain circumstances and will enable amendments of its technical provisions to be made by the Commission after consultation with a technical committee which is to be established.

3. Irish Bathing Waters

The problem with which the proposed Directive is concerned exists in a more acute form in most of the other Member States than it docs in this country. As far as the Joint Committee has been able to ascertain most bathing water in Ireland already has a much higher standard of quality than is aimed at in the proposed Directive. Nevertheless some pollution does exist. The Joint Committee is advised, for example, that the water at the Bull Wall in Dublin docs not conform to the mandatory values of the Directive parameters and that Killiney Bay is below the standard set by the guide values of the parameters. It is expected that when a number of new sewerage schemes in Dublin City and County are completed this pollution will disappear.

Whatever the extent of the problem at present the Joint Committee believes that the pollution of bathing places, if unchecked, is likely to increase. A good deal of modern development takes place along the coastline. In this connection the Joint Committee was somewhat surprised to learn that although we have 3,498 miles of coastline, including all estuarine areas, we have only 342 miles of sandy beach. Most bathing areas are found in about 20% of the total beach areas on about 80 miles of coast in all. This area constitutes a national asset as indeed do much of our inland waters and it is a worthwhile national aim to see that these are preserved and protected.

4. Views of Joint Committee

The Joint Committee in general welcomes the provisions of the proposed Directive. The systematic and continuing monitoring of bathing places should enable the incidence of pollution to be detected at an early stage and should ensure that the extent of the problem is always accurately assessed. The information so obtained should facilitate the adoption of early and effective remedial measures.

The Joint Committee has, however, some doubts as to whether the intensive sampling envisaged by the Commission could be justified in our circumstances having regard to the cost involved all of which, incidentally, will have to be met from our own resources. The Commission has indicated that twenty samples, spread over a full recreational season, should be examined as a minimum at the onset. It accepts that the frequency of sampling can subsequently be reduced, if the situation remains unchanged, but points out that if less than ten samples arc examined the statistical reliability of the final assessment can be expected to be rather low. In Ireland there arc no areas where bathing is “authorised” as far as public authorities are concerned and if the reference to areas where bathing is "tolerated" is taken literally there is likely to be a very great deal of sampling indeed and much of it pointless. The Joint Committee would like to see some derogation from these requirements so that most of the effort could be concentrated where a real likelihood of pollution exists.

It is accepted by the Joint Committee that the cost of implementing the proposed Directive should be met from national funds though it acknowledges that there is a case for assistance towards the cost of monitoring if no derogation from the provisions envisaged is obtained. It believes that the incidence of pollution varies so widely in the different States that a Community contribution would be inappropriate as far as remedial measures are concerned.

The Joint Committee has noted that the Committee on Public Health and Environment of the European Parliament concluded that bathing should formally be prohibited in water with a higher level of pollution than stipulated in the draft. The Joint Committee doubts if this would be the proper approach here. It considers that it would be more efficacious to ensure that any dangerous degree of pollution is brought to public attention by adequate publicity.

Having regard to our present favourable position the Joint Committee believes that we should endeavour to see that all our bathing places conform to the more stringent guide values of the relevant parameters. It recommends that provision be made accordingly in any domestic legislation implementing the Directive.

Finally the Joint Committee notes the omission of swimming pools from the terms of the proposed Directive. It seems to it that if a system of monitoring bathing places on a national basis is established it should be extended to cover swimming pools especially if such pools are supplied with water from areas where a real danger of pollution exists.

5. Acknowledgement

The Joint Committee wishes to acknowledge with thanks the assistance it received from Bord Failte and An Taisce in considering this proposal.


Chairman of the Joint Committee.

2nd July, 1975.