20 Hard Facts About Water Pollution in Europe (What You Should Know)

Have you heard about recent water pollution instances in Europe?

Are you concerned about the quality of drinking water in European countries?

Are you appalled by the garbage and debris present in most of Europe’s rivers?

If you live in or are planning to visit any part of Europe anytime soon, you might want to know about the problem of water pollution in Europe. But don’t worry—you’re in the right place to find out more!

Water pollution is a huge problem across Europe, and it affects every country that makes up this continent. In this article, you’ll find out about the different sources of water pollution that afflict this part of the world every day. You’ll also find out about the effects of these sources, and just what an impact water pollution is having on European nations annually.

You’ll also be introduced to 20 facts about water pollution in a few different European countries. These facts may surprise you, but they’re very important to learn. The more you educate yourself on the problem of water pollution, the better position you will have to help make a difference.

Read on to find out more about this widespread problem and how you can help.

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20 Facts about European Water Pollution

Now that you know more about the different types of water pollution that afflict Europe, the problems they cause, and the steps that are being taken to reduce the impact of these problems, you’re ready to delve a little deeper into the world of European water pollution. Below are twenty facts about water pollution in different countries throughout Europe. No matter which part of Europe you’re concerned with, you can find something listed here to help expand your knowledge of this far-reaching problem. Check out this list to learn more.

1. In Italy, one of the most surprising new demands on water supplies has been the tourism industry.

In the past several decades over four hundred wells have been drilled in this area. Even when these wells are drilled correctly and don’t pollute the groundwater, they still put a lot of strain on the amount of water available in this area, which in turn affects drinking water sources throughout the region.

water sources

2. Italy is home to half of Europe’s species of plants and a third of the animal species that call this continent home.

Of all of these plants and animals, a huge number are threatened, endangered, or disappearing altogether, largely due to water pollution and a strain on water supplies across the country. 31% of vertebrate animal species in Italy are threatened, while 22% of lower plants and 15% of higher plants are suffering the same fate.

3. In 2013, the total amount of municipal waste disposed of across Italy clocked in at 29.6 million tons.

This comes in at around 487 kilograms of waste per person. 37% of this waste was disposed of in landfills. However, Italy is making good strides toward recycling and composting, because 39% of this waste was sent to centers focusing on recycling, reclaiming, and composting.

4. One of Italy’s other water pollution contributions comes from more frequent natural disasters than many other countries face.

Over 990,000 people in 2013 spread out over 7% of the total land that makes up Italy are exposed to potential landslides simply because of where they live. In 2013, there were 112 significant landslides throughout Italy. These events lead to flooding that affects over six million people annually throughout the country.

5. A 2015 study by an ecological organization called Ecologists in Action shows that Spain has lost 20% of its freshwater sources in the past twenty years.

According to data trends, this number is expected to rise even higher over the next ten years if nothing is done to improve the situation. This number is an average across the country, and in some places the reduction in freshwater sources was as large as 40% when this study took place.

6. Spain has the highest number of dams per capita of any country in the world, coming in at about thirty dams per every million residents of the country.

Despite this, the demand for water in most areas of Spain increases every year by about 13% on average. This puts a significant strain on the existing freshwater sources, even when they’re dammed and regulated for residential use.

7. Over 80% of the water used in Spain every year goes to the agricultural industry.

As in many other countries, however, this industry contributes the most to water pollution, so there’s an endless loop of water use and contamination present in this sector.

water use

8. 33% of the freshwater rivers in Spain are very contaminated and polluted.

In 2011, it was reported that 39 Spanish cities weren’t correctly treating the water supplies in areas where pollution was either already present or very likely to happen. This led to the over-contamination of rivers throughout the country. Similarly, 91% of all Spanish freshwater sources aren’t able to be used, or are very difficult to use for drinking water. Only 9% are clean enough for regular human consumption.

9. At least 45% of Spanish water pumped every year is done so illegally, using wells that are not operating under water regulations.

This leads to nitrate buildup in surface water sources and high salinity in groundwater sources in places where the water has been over-pumped by illegal well placement. Both nitrates and high salinity contribute to environmental decline and make water unsafe for human consumption.

10. Spain is often considered the most polluted country in Europe, although this is arguable.

However, it is believed that in the next 50 years Spain will lose 30% of its moisture in the soil. It’s also believed that in the next five years, the water scarcity index in Spain will reach 29%, which is an all-time high. The lack of renewable water sources in Spain currently is 60% above the European average, and this number is expected to rise in the next few years as well if more regulations aren’t put in place.

11. Just shy of 100% of the population of Greece uses dedicated water lines supplied by the government.

This means that every household and commercial building alike have access to running tap water, and this is because much of the populations lives in two of the major cities of Greece. Only 76% of the population is connected to sewers or other types of wastewater treatment, however.

12. 14 cubic kilometers, or about 30%, of freshwater sources that supply Greece come from areas outside the boundaries of the country.

When rivers are overused in neighboring countries and then flow downstream to Greece, Greece is left with unclean water in amounts that are too low to support the population. Unfortunately, although there are some agreements in the works with neighboring countries, nothing has been set in stone yet, so water quality in Greece continues to be decided largely by other countries.

13. 85% of water used annually throughout Greece goes to old-fashioned agricultural practices that have yet to be modernized or updated, and irrigation is one of the biggest culprits.

To put this in perspective, only 13% of the country’s annual water usage goes to domestic purposes, while only 2% of the water used annually in Greece goes to other industrial operations. With better agricultural practices and more environmentally sustainable methods of growing crops, this huge strain on the water supply could be seriously improved.

water sources

14. In Germany, a 2011 study showed that freshwater sources throughout the country were polluted with 331 different types of organic pollutants, including bacteria, sediment, and poisonous natural substances like lead and arsenic.

Of these 331 types of pollutants, a whopping 257 of them were found in German rivers alone, disregarding lakes and other sources of freshwater. In some of these rivers, the number of the organic pollutants present was enough to reach toxic levels for the plant and animal life in the area. Unfortunately, these pollutants aren’t regulated by the government in Germany and therefore aren’t legally required to be removed from the water.

15. In England and Wales alone, over three thousand instances of oil and fuel pollution occur every year.

These are made up of several different causes, but they all have the same end result. This number includes purposeful dumping of oil and fuels into drain waters and even freshwater sources, accidental spill during delivery and transportation, and leaks from storage containers that haven’t been well maintained. These spills have a profound effect on the surrounding environment as they choke out the amount of oxygen present in water and kill populations of fish, birds, animals, and plants in the area.

16. In 2006 alone, wastewater and the sewage industry in Wales and England contributed to 25% of the major water incidents and disease outbreaks that happened throughout these countries.

There are plenty of regulations in place to help improve the quality of water in terms of wastewater dumping and disposal, but unfortunately, they’re hard to regulate and aren’t heavily enforced. This leads to a lot of negligence on the part of companies and municipalities as well when it comes to disposing of wastewater.

17. According to a study in 2015 performed by the Environmental Agency, only 17% of England’s rivers are in good environmental health.

This is a huge decline from the previous year’s numbers, which showed 29% of the rivers in England to be in good health. Only 0.08% of the rivers in England are deemed high quality, with most of them coming in at moderate on the scale. A little over 3% of the rivers are qualified as bad, which is the lowest ranking in this study. The study focuses on water flow, wildlife populations in the area, and chemistry tests as well. A river can’t fail any of these areas if it is to be deemed good quality.

18. Water pollution in English rivers leads to a surprising number of waterborne illnesses throughout England every year.

Many of these illnesses come from bacteria that are found in polluted water sources. Weil’s disease, a deadly illness that causes diarrhea, vomiting, muscle pain, and headache, infected 58 people in England in 2009 alone. Every year, over five thousand people in England are infected with cryptosporidiosis, a parasite present in polluted water sources.

19. A 2014 study in France determined that 1.5 million people are serviced by tap water that can be considered polluted.

The vast majority of these individuals live in the rural parts of France, where water control isn’t as strict and dedicated water treatment facilities may not be available. This also directly correlates with the amount of agricultural practices taking place in France. Where agriculture is more prominent, tap water is more contaminated and, in some places, even polluted with pesticides, bacteria, and more. 63% of the homes receiving polluted water in this study were drinking water polluted with pesticides.

water treatment

20. In small villages throughout the French countryside, the amount of water pollution present in drinking water has risen since 2012.

Areas with populations of less than 500 saw more contamination in their drinking water over the past few years, while in agricultural areas surrounding Paris, at least 20% of the population is being serviced by unclean drinking water. The town of Berck in Northern France has consistently shown the most polluted water in the country.

21. One of the leading causes of water pollution in France comes from algal blooms on the beaches of Brittany.

These growths have been expanding for the past forty years, with no sign of slowing down. They continue to get bigger and bigger due to the increasing number of nitrates in the water supply, which in turn come from nearby agricultural areas. When areas are over-farmed and pesticides are present in groundwater sources, algal blooms such as these can get out of hand very fast. In 2010, these algal blooms caused a man to die because of toxic gas they were emitting.

22. In 2015, Scottish Water was named as one of the biggest offenders in terms of water pollution in Scotland.

This company was held responsible for 51 water pollution offenses in a single year, including a significant chlorine spill that killed over a thousand fish and a leak of over ten thousand liters of sulphuric acid into the River Devon in the same year. Unfortunately, despite these terrible offenses, the company wasn’t fined very much for these actions, proving that Scotland’s regulations against water contamination need to be improved.

23. Pollution from toxic runoff and groundwater contamination in Scotland currently affects 25% of rivers in the country and 17% of lochs.

Pollution that directly impacts surface water sources affects 15% of rivers and 11% of lochs. These large numbers of pollutants in water sources throughout Scotland contribute to dwindling numbers of threatened fish and animal species and continue to affect the health and well-being of people who rely on these waters for drinking too.

Sources of Water Pollution in Europe

Before you learn more specific facts about water pollution in Europe, you should first understand the type of pollutant sources the continent faces on a regular basis. Remember, too, that Europe is comprised of several different countries, so the problems faced by some of them don’t necessarily affect others in the same way. The list below doesn’t focus on a specific country, however, but does include issues that can be found throughout Europe’s water sources.

  • Agriculture – As in many parts of the world, agriculture is one of the biggest contributors to the problem of water pollution in Europe. Most European countries have a thriving agricultural industry, but a lot of these countries still employ old-fashioned practices that don’t help conserve water and don’t focus on safe disposal of waste and pesticides. These countries, for the most part, aren’t really working toward cleaner or safer practices either, so they’re at a standstill when it comes to improving the quality of water surrounding large agricultural areas.
  • Dumping – In England specifically, dumping is a big problem that affects almost every river in the country. Unfortunately, a lot of this dumping is purposeful, and people tend to dispose of residential garbage in these freshwater sources. Landfills also contribute to this problem, so even when waste is disposed of in the correct places, it tends to pollute nearby water sources through toxic groundwater contamination.
  • Industries – Industrial water pollution isn’t nearly as significant in Europe as it is in North America, but it is still a problem that contributes to a lack of clean water throughout the continent. Different European countries handle industrial water pollution differently, and some have stricter regulations against this than others do. In most European countries, however, industries dump wastewater into freshwater sources and contaminate drinking water in and around cities. England and France especially are working toward improving these practices, but it's a slow movement that may take several years to show any signs of progress.
  • Mining - Mining is more prominent in some parts of Europe than it is in others, and like industrial processes, it’s not as significant in terms of water pollution as it is in North America. However, once again, this is still a problem that needs to be addressed in many European countries. Mining practices, like agricultural practices, aren’t very environmentally friendly when they do take place throughout Europe. They need to be updated and modernized in order to ensure better, safer water in the surrounding areas.
  • Politics – Last but not least, politics has a major effect on the quality of water in some European countries. Some of these countries rely on water sources that come from nearby nations, so there are some disputes over which country deserves to have better quality water. When one country controls the upstream portion of a river and a neighboring country controls the downstream portion, the downstream country usually suffers.

Effects of Water Pollution in Europe

The effects of water pollution across Europe are more widespread than you might think. Although there are only a few developing countries that make up the European continent, there are still a lot of problems related to water pollution that you might expect to find in nations that don’t have access to regular clean water supplies. This is simply because water pollution is a problem that affects us all, and even dedicated tap water sources that become contaminated with pollutants can cause widespread illness, disease, and other issues.

  • Waterborne illness – You might be surprised at just how widespread waterborne illnesses are across Europe. E. coli is common in England and other parts of Europe, and it’s usually transmitted through unclean water sources. Weil’s disease, hepatitis, and many different types of parasites are also carried through polluted and contaminated water across Europe, and they infect a startling number of people every year throughout the continent.
  • Environmental impacts – Of course, water pollution always has a very significant impact on the surrounding environment. When pollution is present, wildlife and plant life both suffer greatly. Across Europe, thousands of species are threatened and hundreds are endangered. Many of these disappear over time due to a lack of clean, fresh drinking water. As in every other part of the world, wetlands and other environmental ecosystems are slowly dwindling across Europe, and this, in turn, means an even greater strain on existing water sources available to humans and animals alike.
  • Decreased tourism – Europe relies heavily on tourism from other parts of the world to sustain many individuals and corporations that exist in almost all of its countries. However, when water pollution is very significant, the tourism industry suffers, and the people who rely on it also have to suffer. When Italian beaches are polluted with toxic algal blooms or English rivers are unsafe for human beings to swim in, people are much less inclined to visit these parts of Europe than they used to be. Although tourism can also contribute to water pollution, especially when wastewater increases and isn’t disposed of properly, a negatively impacted tourism industry can and often does cut back so much on the local economy that costly environmental practices must be reduced.
  • Nutrient and mineral poisoning – When natural types of pollution take place, such as flooding and other natural disasters, soil erodes and contaminates water supplies with minerals and other natural substances. In high quantities, these substances can be poisonous to humans and animals alike. Lead and arsenic are some of the most common substances that cause this type of poisoning. When pollution is not from natural sources and comes instead from chemicals such as pesticides, it can cause nutrient pollution by raising levels of nutrients in the water too high and encouraging algal blooms.

Actions Taken Against Water Pollution in Europe

Different European countries handle the problem of water pollution in different ways, but unfortunately, not a lot of them are handling it very well. It’s difficult for governments to figure out a good way to clean up water supplies without costing too much money, and many of the nations around the world have yet to determine the best way to handle this problem. European countries are no different, but there are still some initiatives, laws, and regulations underway that are intended to help improve the quality of water throughout Europe.

  • Directives – In Italy specifically, directives have been put in place to regulate the disposal of municipal waste. These directives ensure that a certain amount of this waste every year will be composted or recycled whenever possible, and it also helps improve individual access to separate collections. Basically, this means that it should get easier for households to recycle and compost as these types of waste are collected separately from waste that should be sent to landfills.
  • Marine Strategy Framework Directive – This is another Italian initiative to help clean up marine waters surrounding the country. This directive focuses on frequently assessing the quality of marine water in and around the country and helping to protect and restore it whenever possible. When the quality of marine water dips below acceptable levels, the problems causing this will be addressed, which will help improve Italy’s seas significantly over the coming years.
  • National Waste Management Plan – This is a Greek initiative that is currently in the works. It includes waste management plans for different highly populated regions of Greece and even focuses a little bit more on the less populated areas too. This plan also helps improve the recovery, reclamation, and recycling of various types of municipal waste. Regular assessments will be a part of this plan and will help keep track of the quality of water throughout the country over the course of many years.
  • Environment Act 1995 – This legislation established two different organizations in parts of Europe to help improve the quality of water across the region. These organizations included the Scottish Environment Protection Agency and the Environment Agency of England and Wales. With these new groups in place, it became easier to monitor and assess the quality of water in these countries and to catch problems before they get too serious. However, there’s still a lot of work to be done, and enforcement of regulations needs to be improved across these countries.
  • Individual city regulations – Each city throughout Europe has different regulations, laws, and guidelines in place to help improve water in their specific regions. Depending on the location, these might be very strict or very lax. It’s important for concerned residents of places with less strict water pollution regulations to speak to members of their local government to help encourage the adoption of better water quality policies. This is the only way to improve water significantly throughout Europe.

Conclusion

Do you feel a little more confident in your understanding of water pollution throughout Europe? Now that you’ve read through this article, you should be much better acquainted with the concept of European water pollution, and you should know more about the specific problems faced by different countries that make up Europe as well. Whether you’re trying to learn more about water pollution in Italy, Greece, England, France, Scotland, or another part of Europe, there are facts in this article that can help you get started on the road to a greater understanding.

Whether you live in this part of the world or not, you might feel inspired to reach out and start helping clean up water sources in different European countries now, too. If you live in one of the countries affected by this problem, there’s always something you can do. Speak to your local government and encourage them to enact more environmentally friendly policies that can improve the quality of groundwater and surface water sources in your area, and don’t be afraid to organize cleanup groups to help get trash and dumped waste out of rivers in your country.

Of course, if you don’t live in Europe, there’s still something you can do, too. Find out about legitimate nonprofit organizations that focus on European water pollution, and donate time or money to these groups. You’ll be able to contribute to the cause of cleaning up water in Europe even if you’ve never been to this part of the world.

Whichever way you choose to get involved, you can find the perfect way to make a difference and help clean up the water throughout Europe. Now that you’ve learned more about European water pollution, you’ll be better able to find your niche. Pick your favorite and get started right away!

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