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3.2.1        Main issues

Until the end of the 19th century, water quality in rivers and lakes was generally satisfactory in most parts of Europe. Gradual deterioration was experienced around 1900 with the industrial revolution, the concentration of inhabitants in cities and the development of industrial production. Great volumes of sewage and industrial wastewater were discharged into rivers and lakes from towns and the self-purifying processes of recipient water bodies were not sufficient to assimilate the pollution impacts. In the decades to come, the volumes of sewage drained into rivers and lakes without any treatment were rising as a result of the increasing percentage of inhabitants living in houses connected to sewerage. At the same time, industrial water pollution was also increasing as the construction of industrial plants was not accompanied by the construction of wastewater treatment plants.

By the 1970s, some European rivers such as the Thames in London were declared biologically dead due to the disposal of untreated effluents, industrial chemicals and low oxygen levels. Also in southern Europe, uncontrolled water pollution severely impacted the quality of urban rivers such as the Tiber in Rome and the Lambro in the Milan metropolitan area.

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