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3.1.1 Point source pollution (urban waste water, industry)


Point source pollution to surface waters relates mostly to discharges from urban waste water including storm overflows, industrial sites or to a much lesser extent to aquaculture. Groundwater is mainly affected by leaching of hazardous substances from landfills and contaminated sites (EEA 2018b).

In Europe, point source pollution discharges have markedly decreased over the last decades caused by improved purification of urban waste water and reduced industrial discharges. Nevertheless, point source pollution still results in water pollution by oxygen consuming substances, nutrients, and hazardous substances with high impacts on aquatic ecosystems and human health. 

According to the 2nd RBMPs, 15 % of all surface water bodies are affected by point source pollution, from which two-thirds are assigned to urban waste water from treatment plants and some 20 % to industrial waste water ([1]). For groundwater, significant point source pressures are present in 14 % of the area mainly from contaminated sites, industrial sites, waste disposal sites, mining areas, and urban waste water (EEA 2018b).

More than 30 000 industrial and urban waste water facilities in Europe discharge more than 40 000 million m³ waste water every year (EC, n.d.; Van den Roovaart, et al., 2017). Three quarters of them treat water from urban sewage systems with a size of agglomeration of more than 2 000 population equivalents (EC 2019a). 90 % of the population in EU Member States are connected to sewage systems. The highest rates of above 80 % are located in Central and Northern Europe, where also the best level of treatment (e.g. nutrient removal) has been implemented in the majority of waste water treatment plants([2]).

Waste water from industry has decreased over the last decade. This is caused by increased regulations (e.g. Industry Emissions Directive – IED or the European Pollutant Release and Transfer Register -  E-PRTR), improvements in treatment and implementation of best available techniques reference documents, e.g. BREF ([3]). Furthermore, relocation of various heavy polluting and energy intensive manufacturing industries outside Europe has also led to water quality improvement ([4]). The connection of industrial waste water to urban waste water treatment plants to avoid direct industrial emissions to water has marginally increased (EEA 2019a). Industries with still high direct releases to water are e.g. pulp and paper, steel, energy supply or chemicals, whereas manufacturing or food production tend to be more connected to urban waste water treatment plants (EEA 2019a). This is also due to the recommendation of the best available technique reference document for industrial installations (Canova, et al., 2018).

Also, storm water causes problems dependent on the sewer system. In case of heavy rains, overflows from combined sewer systems are discharged into surface waters with a mixture of rainwater and untreated waste water. This can lead to a temporally high pollution pressure.

([1]) Source:; download 17.04.2020

([2]) Source:


([4]) Source:

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