Final Report to the Drinking Water Inspectorate - Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions


August 1999

Executive Summary

This review has been funded by the Drinking Water Inspectorate (DWI) (Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions - DETR) to assist in the provision of technical background information to the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UN-ECE). The review focuses on the provision of drinking water, its control including monitoring of drinking water quality, and problems concerning supply and quality across pan-European countries, and supports the development of an international instrument on the eradication of water-related disease at pan-European level. The study is based mainly on the evaluation of replies to questionnaires returned from 29 countries (questionnaires sent to 53 countries).

Whilst many countries in Europe, particularly in the EU and other Western countries, have high quality drinking water supplies, large numbers of people, mainly in Eastern Europe, do not have access to safe drinking water (low connection rates, discontinuous supply, microbiological contamination). In rural areas across Europe (East and West) there are many private supplies (individual households) and small community supplies which receive little or no treatment; these may be contaminated, but are inadequately monitored. Scarcity of water is rarely the limiting factor; inadequate public supplies and quality are mainly due to lack of financial resources, organisational problems, lack of trained personnel, contamination of raw water sources, poor infrastructure, inadequate water treatment and distribution systems.

Monitoring of drinking water quality and reporting of results is often inadequate, but the most frequently encountered water quality problems include microbiological contamination, nitrate, iron, manganese, and pesticides, and are mainly due to agricultural activities and domestic effluents, natural presence in source waters, and poor state of distribution systems. Other areas of concern include nitrite, ammonia, aluminium, lead (from lead pipes), naturally occurring high levels of arsenic and fluoride, industrial contaminants including heavy metals, disinfection by-products (THMs), and Cryptosporidium.

There should be a unified system of drinking water quality monitoring and reporting across Europe to allow comparisons across countries and regions, and setting of priorities for improvement measures. Significant improvements in the infrastructure are needed in many parts of Europe, together with the establishment of institutional mechanisms to monitor drinking water quality, and to enforce drinking water legislation. Priorities must be clearly established to provide a safe drinking water supply (continuous supply, microbiological quality) where this has not already been established. The implementation of source protection schemes will be important in the long term.

Copies of this report may be available as an Acrobat pdf download under the 'Pre 2000 Reports' heading on the DWI website.