Brussels, 16 October 2014
Environment: European Commission takes Portugal back to Court for inadequate waste water treatment, asks for fines
The European Commission is referring Portugal back to the European Court of Justice for poor implementation of the EU Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive. In 2009, the Court ruled that Portugal was failing in its obligation to collect, treat and dispose of urban waste water in an adequate manner. 7 agglomerations across the country with populations of more than 15 000 lacked the necessary collection systems and 15 lacked adequate treatment systems. Five years after the Court's ruling, two agglomerations still fail to comply with EU standards and the situation is likely to persist for several years, which means that the health of citizens is at risk. The Commission is asking for a lump sum fine of EUR 4 458 828 and a daily penalty payment of EUR 20 196 until the obligations are fulfilled.
Some progress has been made since the 2009 Court ruling, but more work is required in two agglomerations. In Vila Real Santo António (population equivalent: 116 500), although work is well advanced, three districts are still not connected to the collection and treatment system. In Matosinhos (population equivalent: 287 000), a major fishing harbour and industrial district near Oporto, the latest information available to the Commission shows that work has not yet started on upgrades to the treatment plant, and the new system will not be operational before late 2017 at the earliest. Until then, inadequately treated waste water will continue to be discharged into the sea. Under EU legislation, the deadline for completing such works was 2000.
The lack of waste water treatment in these agglomerations means that the health of residents is being jeopardised, as untreated effluent tends be contaminated with harmful bacteria and viruses. Untreated waste water also contains nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorous which can damage the marine environment by promoting excessive growth of algae that chokes off other life. Proper waste water treatment is recognised as an important factor in ensuring a thriving tourist industry, a key sector for the Portuguese economy.
On the recommendation of Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik, the Commission is therefore taking Portugal back to the EU Court of Justice and asking for fines to be imposed.
Towns and cities across the European Union are required to collect and treat their urban waste water under the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive.
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 sensitive water bodies (e.g. rivers, lakes, coastal areas), more stringent treatment is needed. Such treatment facilities ought to have been 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.
For more information:
On the October infringement package decisions, see MEMO/14/589
On the general infringement procedure, see MEMO/12/12
For more information on infringement procedures: