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European Commission - Press release

Commission takes Spain to Court over waste water treatment presenting a risk to public health

Brussels, 26 November 2014

Commission takes Spain to Court over waste water treatment

The European Commission is taking Spain to Court over a failure to ensure that waste water is properly treated. In the EU, Member States need adequate collection and treatment systems for urban waste water, as untreated water poses risks to human health, inland waters and the marine environment. Spain was first warned in 2003 about this particular case, which concerns areas with a population equivalent of more than 10 000. Although some problems have since been solved, the slow rate of progress has now led the Commission, on the recommendation of Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Commissioner Karmenu Vella, to refer the case to the Court of Justice of the European Union.

EU legislation on urban waste water treatment dates back to 1991. By the end of 1993, Member States had to identify "sensitive areas" where more stringent treatment is required (sensitive areas include areas where freshwater is abstracted for drinking water), and they had to put in place systems to collect and treat water entering these sensitive areas by 31 December 1998.

Spain has lagged behind in implementing the legislation, and reports from the Spanish authorities show that appropriate treatment is still lacking in agglomerations such as Berga, Figueres, El Terri (Banyoles), all in Catalonia, and Pontevedra-Marín-Poio-Bueu, in Galicia. For some other areas (Bollullos Par del Condado, Andalusia, and Abrera and Capellades, both in Catalonia) the Commission takes the view that the data submitted is either incomplete, or shows a failure to comply with the appropriate standards.


The Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive requires Member States to ensure that agglomerations (towns, cities, settlements) properly collect and treat their urban waste water. Untreated waste water can be contaminated with harmful bacteria and viruses, presenting a risk to public health. It also contains nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorous which can damage freshwaters and the marine environment, promoting excessive algae growth that chokes other living organisms, a process known as eutrophication.

See also:

On November month's infringement package decisions: MEMO/14/2130

On the general infringement procedure, see MEMO/12/12

For more information on infringement procedures:


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Iris PETSA (+32 2 299 33 21)

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