Intended for healthcare professionals

Education And Debate

Water and health in Europe: an overview

BMJ 1999; 318 doi: (Published 19 June 1999) Cite this as: BMJ 1999;318:1678
  1. Tim Lack, leader (
  1. European Topic Centre on Inland Waters, Water Research Centre, Medmenham, Buckinghamshire SL7 2HD

    Editorials by Brundtland and Pershagen

    There are many pressures on Europe's water resources. They arise from industrialisation, the intensification of agriculture, and changes in populations (not just growth, but also the move from rural to urban habitats). Universal access to safe drinking water and sanitation is the most fundamental principle necessary to ensure the health and wealth of nations, and there is understandableconcern that this could be prejudiced by the unsustainable use and management of water.

    Surface and underground water sources have a finite (and sometimes small)capacity for renewal, and societal pressures have an impact on the quality and quantity of the resource. It is essential that both quality and quantity are managed together and that this management is integrated into long term planning and policy development.

    Conventional mechanical and biological treatment processes do not remove the plant nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus) that often cause excessive growth of algae in fresh and coastal waters. The number of micro-organisms discharged usually renders the receiving water unfit for recreational purposes

    Many parts of Europe are currently well provided with fresh water but it is unevenly distributed between and within countries, and there are shortages in a number of areas. A wide range of chemicals has been found in the water but evidence of their impact on health has often been difficult to identify. Problems of significant chemical contamination are often localised and may arise fromnatural geological conditions as well as from human activities. Not all households in Europe are supplied with piped drinking water; rural populations in the east of the continent are less well served. Treatment and disinfection of drinking water occurs inconsistently across the continent, andin areas where economic and political changes have led to a deterioration of infrastructure, a number of outbreaks of waterborne disease have occurred. Inadequate sewerage …

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