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European Commission - Press release

Environment: Commission takes Luxembourg back to court over waste water treatment and asks for a fine

Brussels, 27 October 2011 - The European Commission is referring Luxembourg back to the European Court of Justice for poor treatment of urban waste water. The Court previously ruled in November 2006 that Luxembourg was failing in its obligation to treat and dispose of urban waste water in an adequate manner. Nearly five years after the Court's ruling, four agglomerations in Luxembourg do not yet comply with EU legislation, including the capital. On the recommendation of Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik, the Commission is asking the Court to impose fines, suggesting a lump sum of 11 340 € and a daily penalty payment of 1 248 € until the obligations are fulfilled.

Commissioner Janez Potočnik said: "Bringing a Member State back to Court for a second time is not an action the Commission takes lightly. However, untreated urban waste water is detrimental to the quality of Europe's rivers, lakes and coastal waters and a threat to public health. Delays in providing citizens with the necessary levels of protection are unacceptable".

The European Court of Justice ruled against Luxembourg in November 2006 for bad application of the 1991 Urban Wastewater Treatment Directive regarding discharges into sensitive water bodies.

Luxembourg has designated its whole territory as a "sensitive area" and initially chose to comply with its obligations by aiming for an overall reduction of 75% of nitrogen and phosphorous from all treatment plants (an alternative compliance route proposed by the Directive). Following the Court ruling, Luxembourg opted to comply with the Directive by imposing the more stringent treatment required for agglomerations of more than 10,000 people.

Luxembourg contains 12 such agglomerations, four of which are still not compliant. While some works have been planned and are expected to finish by the end of 2011, works on two urban waste water treatment plants have been seriously delayed. These concern the extension of the Bleesbrück plant in the town of Diekirch and the connection of the Bonnevoie plant to the Beggen treatment plant, in the city of Luxembourg.

Background

Towns and cities across the European Union are required to collect and treat their urban waste water under the Urban Wastewater Treatment Directive.

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 freshwater 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 agglomerations of more than 15,000 inhabitants not discharging into sensitive areas, the deadline for secondary treatment infrastructure was 31 December 2000. In smaller agglomerations the deadline for compliance was 31 December 2005.

Further information:

http://ec.europa.eu/environment/water/water-urbanwaste/index_en.html

See also:

http://ec.europa.eu/environment/legal/implementation_en.htm

MEMO/11/739

Contacts :

Joe Hennon (+32 2 295 35 93)

Monica Westeren (+32 2 299 18 30)


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