EUGLOREH project





10.4.5. Multiple exposure: bathing water and soil contamination/waste disposal

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10.4.5. Multiple exposure: bathing water and soil contamination/waste disposal Bathing water





WISE   Water Information System for Europe




Although being beneficial to health, recreational waters such as rivers, lakes, streams and coastal waters are known to harbour enteric and other pathogens derived from sewers, animal waste, the environment or through contamination by the bathers themselves. Outbreaks associated with recreational activity in these environments have been reported in developed countries. The source of contamination can sometimes be determined by tracking the specific pathogen type causing the illness to an upstream host. Moreover, toxic algal blooms, caused by the increasing eutrophication of coastal and inland waters and possibly by climate changes, not only reduce the water’s attractiveness, but may cause skin dermatitis in association with swimming and other diseases if ingested.


Use of recreational waters provides opportunities for multiple exposure of human beings when bathing, e.g. by dermal contact with water, ingestion of small amounts of water or inhalation of aereosols.


Data sources

This review is based on the WHO Guidelines for bathing water (WHO, 2003). Another important source is the Water Information System for Europe (WISE), which covers the European Water Framework Directive (European Commission, 2000) and additional European water-related directives including background information. Additional information has been collected from the fourth assessment report - the “Belgrade Report” (EEA, 2007) - of the European Environment Agency and the State of the Environment in Europe 2005 report (SOER, 2005) (EEA, 2005) as well as from the European Environment Agency (EEA) (2008).


Data description and analysis



At present, the general quality of bathing waters, as measured by the presence of faecal indicators and pathogens, poses limited health risks; in fact, due to investments in waste water treatment facilities, bathing water quality has improved since the 1990s. In 2003, as much as 97% of the monitored coastal bathing waters and 92% on inland bathing waters complied with the mandatory European standards (Figure A and B) (EEA, 2008).


Figure Bathing water. Compliance with the old and new EU bathing water directives in coastal water


Figure Bathing water. Compliance with the old and new bathing water directives in inland water.


Some of the parameters listed in the old Directive are robust, although analytical methodology has not been fully developed yet (e.g. for monitoring viruses). Therefore, compliance with the mandatory standards does not necessarily mean that there is no risk to human health. The new Bathing Water Directive (2006/7/EC) introduces a higher health standard than the old directive which should reduce the likelihood of illness. In the new Bathing Water Directive two mandatory standards of microbiological indicators for faecal contamination, E. Coli and Intestinal Enterococci, are going to be used. This simplification reflects recognition that faecal material, for instance due to inadequate sewage treatment and pollution from animal waste, is the primary health threat to bathers. Therefore, compliance with the mandatory standards will give better information with regard to the risk to human health. The new Bathing Water Directive will repeal the old one (Directive 76/160/EEC) by the end of 2014 at the latest.


One such factor is toxic algae are among the factors which could potentially affect public health. Algal blooms in the sea have occurred throughout recorded history but have been increasing during recent decades. The main cause is assumed to be the increasing eutrophication of coastal- and inland waters but also climate change factors, such as increased average annual temperatures may be involved. In several areas (e.g., the Baltic and North seas, the Adriatic Sea) algal blooms are a recurring phenomenon. Algal blooms make recreational waters less attractive because of reduced transparency, discolouring of water, scum formation and unpleasant odours. Several human diseases have been reported to be associated to the exposure to toxic algae but primarily when the toxin is ingested, for example through contaminated shellfish (paralytic shellfish poisoning, diarrheic shellfish poisoning etc). Several spices of blue-green algae cause skin dermatitis when swimmers are exposed to high concentrations, but the reactions depend very much on the species. Another potential risk for exposure is via the lungs when sea spray is inhaled during windy days.


Swimmers Itch” is a dermatitis caused by trematode parasites of aquatic/migrating birds. It occurs in both freshwater and in marine coastal waters in the Northern parts of Europe and can be very annoying. The life cycles of these parasites involve snails as the first host and aquatic birds or some mammals as the final host. The larval parasite called "cercaria" is released by aquatic or amphibious (i.e moving both on land and water) snails and causes dermatitis when it mistakenly penetrates a person's skin rather than that of its rightful host, usually a duck. “Swimmer's itch” is increasing probably because of the increasing annual temperatures and increased eutrophication.


Concerns have been expressed on the safety for recreational purposes of water bodies disseminated along the migration pathways of birds, responsible for the spreading of highly infectious avian flew viruses through their faeces ( ECDC, 2005).


Control tools and policies


A new EU Bathing water Directive (European Commission, 2006b) was published in 2006. Under the Directive, the tests for bathing waters have been simplified to E. coli and intestinal enterococci, instead of the 19 different tests used previously. This simplification reflects the recognition that faecal material, for instance due to inadequate sewage treatment and pollution from animal waste, is the primary health threat to bathers. Therefore, compliance with the mandatory standards will give better information on the risk to human health. The new Bathing Water Directive will repeal the old one (Directive 76/160/EEC) (European Commission, 1976) by the end of 2014 at the latest and classifies beaches as 'excellent', 'good', 'sufficient' or 'poor'. The extra classification of 'sufficient' quality comes below 'excellent' and 'good' but still allows a beach to qualify as a bathing water. Standards have been raised so that the estimated health risk to bathers is reduced. There will be more tests carried out more frequently when a beach is classified as 'poor' or only 'sufficient'. Information on water quality will be provided on the internet in a timely fashion. New standard signs will be used on all bathing beaches to show the quality of recent tests. Under this new regime, we hope that infections linked to recreational activity will be reduced. This bathing water management programme will be introduced over a 13 year period, starting in 2008.


Most European bathing waters are hosted in coastal regions and covered by the Water Framework Directive. However, coastal waters are part of the larger marine environment and affected by human marine activities. The European Union is preparing a Thematic Strategy on the Protection and Conservation of the Marine Environment which aims at achieving a good environmental status of the EU's marine waters by 2021 and to protect the resource base upon which marine-related economic and social activities depend.



European Commission (2000): European Water Framework Directive 2000/60/EC. Available at:

European Commission (2006a): The Commission proposal setting environmental quality standards for surface waters of 41 dangerous chemical substances includes the 33 priority substances and 8 other pollutants. COM(2006)397 final. Available at:

European Commission (2006b): Bathing water Directive, Directive 2006/7/EC of the European parliament and of the Council of 15 February 2006 repealing Directive 76/160/EEC.

European Commission (2007): Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council: Challenge of water Scarcity and Drought in the European Union. COM (2007) 414 final. Available at:

European Environment Agency (EEA) (2005): The European Environment. State and outlook 2005 (SOER 2005). Available at:

European Environment Agency (EEA) (2007): Europe’s Environment. The fourth assessment. (“Belgrade Report2007). Available at:

European Environment Agency (EEA) (2008): Bathing water assessment (draft). EEA - IMS Indicators - Bathing water quality (CSI 022) - Assessment DRAFT created Mar 2008. Available at.


WHO (2003): Guideline for safe recreational water environments. Volume 1: Coastal and fresh waters. Available at: Soil pollution and waste disposal





European ConsumersAssociation


Aromatic Hydrocarbons


Phenols and Chlorinated Hydrocarbons


Environment Action Program


European Commission


European Environment Agency


Eastern Europe, Caucasus and Central Asia


European Free Trade Association (Iceland, Norway,


The European Topic Centre on Resource and Waste


European Union


Statistical Office of the European Communities


Health impact assessment


Joint Research Centre Management


Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons


Polychlorinated biphenyls


Persistent Organic Pollutants


Community Rapid Information System


Strategic Environmental Assessment


South East and Eastern Europe Switzerland and Liechtenstein)


Western and Central Europe


World Health Organisation




Contamination from local sources and air deposition of traffic and industrial effluents affect soil and groundwater quality throughout Europe. The main local sources include losses of contaminants during industrial and commercial operations; inadequate disposal and treatment of municipal and industrial waste; oil extraction and production; and inadequate storage of chemicals (see Figure; EEA, 2007a).


Soil contaminated with hazardous substances can have serious effects on human health through direct contact, aerosols inhalation and ingestion, for example through drinking water from sources that flow through contaminated areas, through the food chain, and even by the ingestion of contaminated soil by children in playgrounds (EEA, 2007b).


Figure Overview of the activities causing soil contamination in Europe


Inadequate waste disposal is one of the main causes of soil pollution. Large amounts of municipal solid, special and hazardous waste is generated in all Member States of the European Union. The trend in waste production is that it increases with the economic activity. Data derived from 19 EU Member States indicate that 31% of the generated waste is disposed of by land-filling, 42% is recycled, 6% is incinerated with energy recovery and 21% is unspecified. Therefore, land filling is still the most common waste management method used across Europe. Incineration has generally evolved since the 60s with a reduction of emissions. Further insights on possible health effects are likely to be gained only from studies that consider exposure pathways and biomarkers of human exposure and effect, and compare waste-related exposures with those due to other sources of pollution.


Even though waste prevention is a top priority across Europe, there is a large gap between the political goals and the continued growth in waste generation which is still rising, with forecasts calling for further increases, along with the increasing environmental impacts from waste. For instance, the inappropriate disposal and treatment of waste from municipal and industrial sources, is one of the major sources of soil and groundwater contamination in South Eastern Europe (EEA 2007b). There are no adequate waste management systems in most countries of this region, where illegal dumping is widespread, especially in rural more than in urban areas.


Many health endpoints have been considered in epidemiological studies; including cancer incidence and mortality and reproductive outcome such as birth defects and low birth weight. Despite some indications of an association between residents living close to specific landfills and adverse health effects, the current evidence is not sufficient to establish the causality of the association. Increases in relative risk are difficult to detect as they are caused by long term low-level exposures. In addition, the new generation incinerators are less polluting, considering both public health and contribution to greenhouse gases. The current evidence of adverse health effects possibly associated to well managed landfills and incinerators is currently inconclusive.


Usually, increasing economic activity means more waste generation. Since economic growth is the predominant policy goal right across Europe, it is often difficult to find politically acceptable instruments which can successfully limit waste generation. Nonetheless, experience shows that successful prevention is possible with the use of several instruments. The objectives of waste prevention are:

·          the reduction of waste generation;

·          the reduction of hazardous substances in material streams and of their dissipation; and

·          the improvement of resource efficiency.


Thus, the priority waste streams to be addressed are those with big mass flows and hazardous waste streams.


Contaminated soils can be a legacy stretching back many decades or centuries. As a consequence, the responsibilities for pollution and, therefore, remediation are often difficult to identify as the polluters are often no longer in business or cannot be made liable. This in turn contributes to make the clean-up of the sites difficult to manage, time-consuming and costly on the public budget. In EEA countries42, potentially polluting activities are estimated to have occurred in nearly three million sites. Investigation is needed to establish where remediation is required. Investigations carried out up to 2006 identified over 1 800 000 potentially contaminated sites, of which 250 000 are in need of remedial treatment. These estimates have increased considerably over the past years, due to the progress in investigation, monitoring and data collection, and are expected to continue to rise in the future. On the other hand, in those countries for which remediation data are available, about 80 000 sites have been cleaned up in the last 30 years (EEA, 2007a).


A wide range of EU policies (for instance on water, waste, chemicals, industrial pollution prevention, nature protection, pesticides, agriculture) are contributing to soil protection. But, as these policies have other aims and scopes of action, they are not sufficient to ensure an adequate level of protection for all soil in Europe. Nevertheless, up to date, there is still no agreement among EU countries on the measures needed to ensure the protection of soil at European level.

On the other hand, at national level, most of the countries have established inventories or registers of contaminated sites and are making progress to various degrees in reducing the risks of pollution to human health and the environment.


Data sources


This review is primarily based on the European Environmental Agency (EEA) 2007 assessment of the core set indicatorProgress in management of contaminated sites” (EEA, 2007a) and the “the reportEurope’s Environment: the fourth assessment” (EEA, 2007 b), chapters on Sustainable Consumption and Production, Waste, and Environment and health and the quality of life.


Environment data and assessments about contaminated sites are available on


Environment data including waste data is available on the EUROSTAT website,1136239,0_45571447&_dad=portal&_schema=PORTAL


EC and EUROSTAT publicationWaste generated and treated in EuropeData 1995-2003contains statistics about generation of hazardous waste in European countries and in different economic sectors.


DG Environment’s web site contains information about waste, especially relevant for this chapter is hazardous waste, EU waste legislation and landfill of waste.


WHO Europe has produced a reviewPopulation health and waste management: scientific data and policy optionsavailable on




Data description and analysis


Waste production


Based on the data available and on estimates, the EEA assessment reports that:


·          annual waste generation in the EU-25+EFTA is estimated at between 1 750 and 1 900 million tonnes, or 3.8 - 4.1 tonnes of waste per capita.

·          the Eastern Europe, Caucasus and Central Asia (EECCA) countries are estimated to generate about 3 450 million tonnes of wastes. On average, this equals 14 tonnes/capita but there are significant differences between countries – from 0.3 tonnes per capita in Moldova to 18 tonnes per capita in Russia.

·          the SEE countries are estimated to have an average waste generation of 5- 20 tonnes per capita per year. This figure has been calculated based on information from Bulgaria and Romania, which account for about 25% of the region’s population.


A rough estimate is that the total annual waste generated in the pan-European region is more than 6 billion tonnes. The amount of waste generated is still increasing in absolute terms, but trends differ from region to region. For example, while total waste generation increased by 5% between 1996 and 2004 in the EU-15+EFTA, it declined by 6 % in the same period in EU-10 countries. However, there are large differences between individual countries, and significant annual variations within a country, due to changes in wastes generated in the mining industry.


Furthermore, despite the political importance of waste prevention, the amount of waste generated in the EECCA and SEE countries is growing due to the increase in economic activity. Economic growth has proven to be a much stronger driver for waste generation than different prevention initiatives, including recommendations for the development of waste prevention programmes in the Kiev Strategy.


Waste generation rates vary strongly between sectors and waste types, reflecting the different socio-economic drivers. Many EECCA and some EU-10 countries, for example, have large amounts of mining waste – in EECCA, between half and three quarters of total waste is generated by mining, quarrying, and the production of metals – while countries, such as the EU-15+EFTA, with high levels of household consumption have greater volumes of municipal waste (Figure However, the single largest waste stream in EU-15+EFTA is construction and demolition waste, mostly generated by intensive construction activities following the re-unification of Germany.


Figure Total waste generation per sector, 2004 (EECCA 2004)


Figure Total waste generation per sector, 2004 (EU-10, 2004)


Figure Total waste generation per sector, 2004 (EU-15 + EFTA, 2004)


In the EU, 31 % of total waste generated is landfilled, 42 % is recycled, 6 % is incinerated with energy recovery and 21 % is unspecified (data from 19 Member States). Consistent information on waste disposal methods in EECCA and SEE is also not available. However, in the Russian Federation, between 40 % and 57 % of total waste generated from industry was landfilled in the 20022004 period (MNR, 2004).


More than 250 millions tonnes of hazardous waste, 3%-4% of the total, is generated in Europe every year, mostly in the EECCA countries, with Russia the dominant producer (Figure The large differences in generation statistics are due varying classification in the EU and EECCA countries, where more waste types are classified as hazardous. Therefore, the figures on hazardous waste are not entirely comparable.


Figure Hazardous waste generation in selected EU-25+EFTA, SEE and EECCA countries 1996-2004


Hazardous waste generation in the EU-25+EFTA increased 20% over the 1996-2004 period. The increase in the EECCA countries until 2003 resulted from increasing economic activity since the mid nineties, although improved registration probably also played a role. The available information doesnt explain the decline from 2003 to 2004.


Many EECCA countries are experiencing environmental problems arising from the long-term storage of hazardous waste generated during the Soviet era. Different pollutants were accumulated, including radioactive, military and industrial wastes. The breakdown up the Soviet Union, the formation of new independent EECCA countries and the changes of ownership means that much of this waste has no legal owner. To make things even worse, the smaller EECCA countries often have little capacity to improve the situation.


There are also large stockpiles of obsolete pesticides containing persistent organic pollutants (POPs) which date back to the Soviet era, and which now have become a serious risk to the environment. Supply of pesticides to State-owned collective farms was administered centrally, and substantial amounts were sent to farms each year regardless of need. Stockpiles gradually grew, with farmers storing them as best they could. Although following the break-up of the Soviet Union the supply of pesticides stopped, these stock-piles have increasingly become a problem as many storage facilities have no legal owner. In Uzbekistan about 18,000 tonnes of banned and obsolete pesticides have been kept in underground depositories since 1972, while in other areas pesticides and their packaging materials were buried in landfills.


All European countries have experienced significant growth in imports and exports since the 90s. In the EU-25, the share of both imports and exports in GDP grew from 27% in 1990 to 33%-34% in 2005, with exports being one of the main drivers of economic growth in the EU-15. In the three largest SEE countries, Bulgaria, Romania and Turkey, share of exports in GDP increased from 16%-31%, while the share of imports was even higher, growing from 21%-35%. In Eastern European countries, the GDP share of imports grew from 20%-29% while exports increased from 20-39%.


Soil contamination


Figure Overview of progress in the management of contaminated sites in Europe


Figure Breakdown of activities causing local soil contamination per country


Figure Detailed analysis of industrial and commercial activities causing soil contamination per country


Figure Overview of contaminants affecting soil and groundwater in Europe


Table Overview of contaminants affecting soil and groundwater sites per country


In EEA member countries, potentially polluting activities may have occurred at about three million sites. National estimates show that more than 8 % (or nearly 250 000 sites) are contaminated and need to be remediated. These estimates have increased considerably over the past years, due to the progress in investigation, monitoring and data collection. This trend is expected to continue in the future. On the contrary, remediation is progressing relatively slowly: in the last thirty years, only just over 80 000 sites have been cleaned-up in the countries where data on remediated sites are available (Figure


The distribution of the sources of soil pollution across economic sectors differs from country to country, reflecting their industrial structure, the level of implementation of pollution prevention measures and the various risk assessment and management approaches adopted. Nevertheless, industrial and commercial activities, as well as the treatment and disposal of waste, remain the most important sources throughout Europe. On the other hand, contamination from oil storage is relatively important in some countries, such as Latvia, Estonia and Croatia, where it respectively covers 46 %, 42 % and 36 % of all identified contaminating activities. In Bulgaria, the storage of obsolete chemicals covers more than 30 % of all activities. In the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, mining sites represent 27 % of all sources of contamination, while in Estonia military sites cover 14 % of the total investigated sites (Figure


At industrial and commercial sites, handling losses, leakages from tanks and pipelines, and accidents are the most frequent sources of soil and groundwater contamination. Industrial sources mainly come from the chemical and metal working industries, energy production and oil industry. Gasoline and car service stations are reported as the most frequent sources of soil contamination in Luxembourg (84 % of all sources), Latvia (61 %), Italy (52 %) and Finland (51 %). In Austria and Belgium (Brussels region) the frequency of dry cleaning as a source of contamination is high, accounting for more than 20 %. In other countries, gasoline stations and dry cleaners have not been included in national inventories ((Figure


The range of contaminants found at the investigated sites varies from country to country. However, overall estimates identify heavy metals and mineral oil as the main soil contaminants in Europe (Figure These estimates are based on the frequency with which a specific contaminant is reported to be the most important in the investigated sites. Other contaminants include polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), aromatic hydrocarbons (BTEX), phenols and chlorinated hydrocarbons (CHC) (Table Mineral oil and chlorinated hydrocarbons are reported as the most relevant contaminants for groundwater.


The health impact of soil pollution varies considerably with the specific contaminant, site specific conditions and exposure of the receptors. In fact, the risks are determined by the physical chemical properties of the contaminants such as: solubility, mobility, volatility, sorption capacity, persistence etc; the pathways to potential receptors (e.g. the existence of an impermeable layer, the permeability and thickness of the unsaturated zone etc.) as well as the exposure of the receptors (e.g. humans or animals). Therefore, the assessment of the impacts of contamination has to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.


The protection of groundwater resources and the exposure of humans via drinking water from ground sources are reported as being by far the most important reasons for the application of risk-reduction measures, whereas the protection of the soil per se has a relatively lower importance. This may be due to the lack of specific regulations covering the soil media, but also due to the wider dispersion of contaminants in groundwater compared to soil.


An assessment of the impacts of the various contaminants in soil and groundwater would require a detailed knowledge of the local situation in each site and therefore cannot be carried out at European level (EEA, 2007a).


A considerable amount of private and public money has already been spent on remediation activities. However, this is relatively small compared to the total estimated costs. Annual expenditure on the management of contaminated sites is on average about 2 % of the estimated overall management costs in the countries for which these estimates are available.


Although most of the countries in Europe have legislative instruments which apply the "polluter-pays" principle to the management of contaminated sites, large sums of public money are provided to fund remediation activities. This is due to the limited applicability of the principle in case of remediation of historical contamination, as many of the legally responsible polluters either no longer exist, cannot be identified or are insolvent. This is a common trend across Europe. On average, approximately 35 % of total expenditure in the surveyed countries derives from public budgets. However, it must be taken into account that information on private expenditures is largely incomplete for most countries (EEA, 2007a).


Waste disposal


Most epidemiological studies on health effects of land-filling lack direct exposure measurements of emitted gases (mainly methane and carbon dioxide with other gases, including hydrogen sulphide and mercury vapour, emitted at low concentration together with a mixture of volatile organic compounds) and rely on residential distance from the site or, in some cases, on exposure modelling; a number of health end-points have been considered, including cancer incidence and mortality and reproductive outcomes such as birth defects and low birth weight. Despite the methodological limitations, the available scientific literature on health effects of waste landfills provides some evidence of the association between residing near a landfill site and adverse health effects. The evidence, somewhat stronger for reproductive outcomes than cancer, is, however, not sufficient to establish the causality of the association. This is an issue that requires further investigations due to the large population potentially exposed to landfills in Many EU Member States. (WHO, 2007).


Incinerators have been operating in many European countries since the 1960s and their technology has evolved over time, in general with a reduction of emissions to the nearby communities. As to the possible impact on health of incinerators, reasons for concern are inhalation of airborne pollutants resulting from combustion of incomplete combustion, consumption of contaminated food and water, or contact with contaminated soil. While some studies indicating possible health effects (i.e. an increase of soft tissues sarcoma and non Hodgkin’s lymphomas, possibly related to exposure to 2,3,7,8-TCDD and related compounds) mainly of old generation incineration plants, the evidence is, overall, not conclusive to establish the occurrence and magnitude of risks. Moreover, new generation incineration plants are based on emission-abating technology enforced by the EU that has resulted in a significant decrease of airborne pollutant levels.


Considering the current increase of waste production and incineration in many countries, the global impact of incinerators and other disposal methodologies on human health and on the general environment through greenhouse gases and persistent pollutants has not been evaluated yet (WHO/EURO, 2007).


Environmental monitoring of all potential sources of pollution from different waste management options has been, and is still continuously carried out. Thus, a great deal is known about the types and amount of substances emanating from these sources. Whatever the waste management option, there are usually a large number of different substances, with only few of them produced in large quantities and many at extremely low concentrations.


Gas emitted from landfill sites mainly consists of methane and carbon dioxide with other gases, such as hydrogen sulphide and mercury vapour being emitted at low concentrations, and a mixture of volatile organic compounds comprising approximately 0.5%. In 2003, the WHO exposure assessment expert group suggested that priority pollutants should be defined on the basis of toxicity, environmental persistence and mobility, bioaccumulation and other hazards such as explosiveness. In addition to the substances above, they suggested that landfill site investigations should consider metals, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB), chlorinated hydrocarbons, pesticides, dioxins, asbestos, pharmaceuticals and pathogens (Rushton (2003):. British Medical Bulletin, Volume 68: 183-197).


Control tools and policies


Soil protection


There is no specific EU legislation on soil protection, despite the fact that a wide range of activities rely on soil and contribute to the depletion of soil resources. Unlike water and air, the protection of soil is addressed indirectly through measures primarily aimed at the protection of other media or developed within sectoral policies. These include, for example, measures on water, waste, chemicals, industrial pollution prevention, nature protection, pesticides, agriculture. However, since these measures have been developed for other aims, they are not sufficient to ensure an adequate level of protection for all soil in Europe.


Progress has been registered in the past five years. Namely, the European Commission’s thematic strategy on soil, which focuses on its protection as an essential element of sustainable development, has marked an important first step in EU soil policy. This strategy was adopted in September 2006 and incorporated a legislative proposal. The draft legislation included the obligation for countries to identify sites at risk of contamination and establish national inventories. However, the Commission’s proposal was rejected by a qualified majority of the European Council in December 2007. There is currently no agreement among EU countries on a common legislation on soil protection.


Nevertheless, the implementation of the EU and national legislative and regulatory frameworks already in place (e.g. Landfill Directive and other waste legislation, Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control Directive, Water Framework Directive, Environmental Liability Directive) should result, in the future, in a more efficient prevention of the releases of contaminants into the environment, and in particular into soil. As a consequence, most of the efforts for remediation are expected to be concentrated on historical contamination.



Contaminated sites management


At national level, inventories or registers of contaminated sites represent an important tool for the effective management of soil contamination from local sources. As of 2006, inventories or registers had been established in most EEA countries at national or regional level. On the other hand, in most countries of Eastern and South-Eastern Europe, the real extent of contamination is unknown because systematic inventories do not exist or cover only specific sites — for example mining or waste disposal sites — and some specific regions, such as those affected by the Chernobyl accident. Activities to rectify this are only at an early stage of development (EEA, 2007b).


Due to economic and logistical reasons, the management of contaminated sites follows a tiered approach with increased efforts and expenses at each step. In most EEA countries, initial steps in the sequence, such as preliminary investigations, are in an advanced phase, whereas the final steps, such as detailed investigation and remediation, are progressing slowly. Based on information from national inventories, the progress in the management of contaminated sites varies significantly across Europe, depending on the different national management approaches and legal requirements. In most of the countries for which data are available, site identification activities are generally in an advanced phase. As a result of preliminary surveys, just over 60 % of the sites - or 1 800 000 sites - have already been confirmed as potentially contaminated and need to be submitted for detailed investigations. Detailed investigations and remediation activities are generally progressing slowly.


In conclusion, more is being learned on the size of the problem but the speed of the clean-up is slow. As long as observed trends continue in the future, more efforts will be needed to clean-up a legacy of contamination (EEA, 2007a).


Waste management


The general principles of waste management are embodied in the so-called waste management hierarchy. The top priorities are to prevent the generation of waste, and to reduce their harmful effects. Alternatively, waste materials should be reused, recycled or used as a source of energy. As a final resort, waste should be disposed safely, which in most of European region means land filling. Since the beginning of the 1990s, a number of EU directives and national policies have been developed. These have set targets for recycling and recovery, as well as put limits on the amount of waste that can be sent to landfill.

 Full compliance with EU legislation and implementation of national waste strategies is expected to lead to further reductions in landfill, with an estimated 25 million tonnes of waste that will be diverted away from landfill to recovery between 2005 and 2016 .


The prevention of soil pollution by waste is covered by different directives such as:


·          EU Waste legislation on hazardous waste (Directive 91/689/EEC), as amended by Directive 94/31/EC (European Commission, 1994). It provides additional record keeping, monitoring and control obligations from the “cradle to the grave”, the waste producer to the final disposal or recovery.

·          Council Directive 99/31/EC of 26 April 1999 on the landfill of waste entered into force on 16.07.1999 (European Commission, 1999). The deadline for implementation of the legislation in the Member States was 16.07.2001. The objective of the Directive is to prevent or reduce as far as possible negative effects on the environment from the landfilling of waste, by introducing stringent technical requirements for waste and landfills.


The decision-making process on the location and operation of waste facilities should be transparent and fair, and aim at replacing poor or even illegal waste management practises with legal and safe operations, and avoid long delays.

It is also important that the adverse effects on health due to nuisance (smell, noise, litter, effect on property values, stress for lack of regulatory response etc) are considered. These endpoints often escape formal epidemiological analysis but are relevant for the health of communities. Consideration of all relevant health elements may be achieved through integrated and participatory approaches, such as health impact assessment (HIA), which has proven effective in some cases in waste management policies. HIA can be done at a policy, program or project level, and help judge the potential effects of a proposal as well as the distribution of those effects. Understanding and managing the potential or likely health impacts of waste management is likely to be best addressed through either HIA or strategic environmental assessment (SEA). In view of the various limitations hampering our ability to characterize all risks, such assessments should be inspired by a precautionary approach, with respect both to the creation of new facilities and the mitigation of exposure to emissions and leachates of existing sites. In the case of remediation schemes of existing contaminated sites, priorities should be based on hazard detection, estimation of the size of the exposed population (including vulnerable groups) and appreciation of inequity in the distribution of exposure among population subgroups.


Future developments


Further insights on health effects of landfills and incinerators are likely to be gained only from studies that consider exposure pathways and biomarkers of exposure and effect, and compare wasterelated exposures with those due to other sources of pollution. The evidence of adverse health effects related to landfills and incinerators, although not conclusive, adds to other environmental concerns in directing waste management strategic choices towards the reduction of waste production, re-use and recycling schemes, as prescribed by the EU Directives. National and local authorities should oppose and eliminate poor, outdated and illegal practices of waste disposal, which still affect some local communities, support regulation and enforcement, and invest in state-of-the-art technology for lowering emissions.

The decision-making process on the location and operation of waste facilities should be transparent and fair, and aim at replacing poor or even illegal waste management practices with legal and safe operations, and avoid long delays.


The decision to adopt epidemiological surveillance programs in areas impacted by landfills or incinerators should be taken on the basis of a feasibility analysis aimed at avoiding the execution of non-informative studies. In the cases in which epidemiological surveillance appears to be appropriate, suitable protocols should be adopted, including protocols on evaluation research after major interventions.


Priority needs for research include development and application of biomonitoring, both in human observational studies and in toxicological research, the use of pharmacokinetic models to assess the influence of factors such as metabolism and timing of exposures, and the analysis of all relevant environmental matrices in order to evaluate chemical exposure pathways and assess the exposure for specific subsets of the population.

Regardless of the final decision on the appropriateness of a local epidemiological study, actions aimed at addressing a population’s concerns should be considered and adopted where necessary, namely:


·         provide information on technological standards, process characteristics and environmental mitigation strategies. Resources should also be concentrated on establishing the real level of risk associated with sites, including improved understanding of exposure pathways, before considering site specific epidemiological research;

·         provide information on environmental monitoring;

·         develop monitoring programs where applicable; and

·         enhance communication and participatory activities in order to promote community autonomy and build consensus.


Since the cost of hazardous waste disposal is much lower out of Europe, there is an economic incentive to export hazardous waste. All EECCA and SEE countries are party to the Basel Convention on the control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal, and by the end of 2005, had implemented most of the principles of the Convention in their national legislation. However, only few countries have the technical facilities for the safe disposal of hazardous waste and, therefore in most cases, waste must be land filled or stored within the country itself, or exported for proper treatment.




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