EEA releases briefing on the challenges facing Europe’s waste water treatment plants

15 October 2019

Article: 53/4106

The European Environment Agency (EEA) has released a new briefing on Europe’s urban waste water treatment plants. The briefing suggests that more investment is needed to meet the challenges posed by the impacts of climate change, as well as the presence of antibiotics and other micro-pollutants in waste water.

Extreme weather events linked to climate change are bringing heavier and more frequent rainfall in some parts of Europe, and water scarcity in others, affecting how well storm sewers and treatment plants operate. Excessive rainstorms can overwhelm and overload sewer systems and lead to overflows at treatment plants, while a lack of rainfall can lead to problems in collection and treatment of sewage.

These problems are in addition to those routinely addressed by local authorities and water utilities including financing construction, maintenance, operation and upgrades, as well as sourcing and retaining skilled staff to deliver necessary improvements in waste water treatment.

The briefing also notes that antibiotics and other pharmaceuticals are increasingly being found in waste water. These chemicals are among those forming a cocktail mix of chemicals, which cannot be easily tackled by many treatment plants because they require expensive, more stringent and energy-intensive treatment techniques. 

Energy costs and scarce resources are reasons to promote water efficiency. These factors also provide an opportunity for treatment plants to contribute more to recycling and reusing water and recovering materials like phosphorus, which can be collected during the treatment cycle. 

Some examples are given of investments taking place across Europe, which aims to improve waste water treatment resilience, with the use of retention ponds and rainfall reservoirs to manage water flows from flash floods, or reusing water that has been treated and cleaned.

Source: EEA, 9 October 2019