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Brussels, 24 November 2010

Environment: Commission urges Italy to comply with Court judgement on waste water treatment

The European Commission is urging Italy to comply with a ruling by the European Court of Justice about waste water treatment. In November 2006, the Court ruled that Italy must take action to protect the River Olona basin in North Italy by treating all urban waste water entering the area. Four years after the ruling, Italy is still not complying with the requirement. Therefore, the Commission is sending a letter of formal notice on a recommendation by Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik. Italy has two months to respond. A failure to act could lead to financial penalties.

In November 2006, the European Court of Justice ruled that Italy was failing in its duty to treat waste water from an agglomeration of several communes in Varese in Lombardy, northern Italy.

EU legislation stipulates that all urban waste water generated by agglomerations of over 10,000 people must be collected and treated before discharge. In the case of Varese, the sensitivity of the local River Olona basin means that stringent treatment is required. The Court ruled that Italy must connect all households in the area to the sewage system, and treat the waste water before its discharge into the environment.

The Italian authorities indicated that the work would be completed by the end of 2008, but repeated delays have occurred. Four years after the ruling, it is still not clear when full compliance can be expected.

The Commission has therefore decided to bring legal action against Italy for non-compliance with the Court's judgment, and is sending a letter of formal notice. Italy has two months to comply. A failure to act could see Italy in Court again, facing the possibility of financial penalties.

The Urban Wastewater Treatment Directive

Towns and cities across the European Union are required to collect and treat their urban waste water under the Urban Wastewater Treatment Directive (91/271/EEC).

Untreated waste water is a risk to public health as it can be contaminated with harmful bacteria and viruses. It also contains nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorous which can damage freshwaters and the marine environment by promoting excessive growth of algae that chokes other life, a process known as eutrophication.

The main type of waste water treatment envisaged by the directive is biological or 'secondary' treatment. However, where agglomerations of over 10,000 inhabitants discharge into water bodies designated as sensitive, more stringent treatment is also needed. Such treatment was required to be in place by 31 December 1998.

For more details on infringement procedures in general, see MEMO/10/605

For current statistics on infringements in general see:

For information about waste water treatment:

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