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Brussels, 5 May 2010

Environment - waste water treatment: European Commission takes Italy and Spain to Court

The European Commission is taking Italy and Spain to the European Court of Justice over two long-running cases involving breaches of EU legislation on urban wastewater treatment. Many large towns and cities remain listed as not having waste water treatment up to EU standards, despite two earlier warnings.

Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik said: "Untreated urban waste water is a threat to public health and the most significant cause of pollution in coastal and inland waters. It is unacceptable that more than eight years after the deadline, Italy and Spain have failed to comply with this important legislation. The Commission has no other choice than to refer these cases to the European Court of Justice."

Court action for Italy and Spain

The Commission is referring Italy and Spain to the European Court of Justice following breaches of the 1991 Urban Wastewater Treatment Directive1. Under the legislation Italy and Spain had to put in place adequate systems for collecting and treating waste water in urban areas with more than 15,000 inhabitants by 31 December 2000.

A first warning letter was sent to both countries in 2004 after information showed that a considerable number of towns and cities did not conform to the directive. A second and final warning letter was sent to Spain in December 2008 and to Italy in February 2009. After a subsequent evaluation, some 178 towns and cities in Italy and some 38 in Spain were found to still be in breach of the legislation. These include Reggio Calabria, Lamezia Terme, Caserta, Capri, Ischia, Messina, Palermo, San Remo, Albenga and Vicenza in Italy and A Coruña (Galicia), Santiago (Galicia), Gijon (Asturias) and Benicarlo (Valencia) in Spain.

The Commission is concerned by this serious and persistent breach of legislation and is therefore referring Italy and Spain to the European Court of Justice.

Dangers of untreated urban waste water

Untreated waste water can be contaminated with harmful bacteria and viruses and thus presents a risk to public health. 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.

For a summary of the Urban Wastewater Treatment Directive, see

For current information on infringements in general see:

1 :

Directive 91/271/EEC

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