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The impact of environmental factors on human health result sometimes in substantial efforts to prevent or reduce health risks. Quite often no actions are undertaken because of a lack of knowledge. Water is one of the key areas where we do know for sure that there is a substantial impact on human health.
The ISDE considers water one of the main sources for a healthy and sustainable lifequality in Europe. It is clear that water is very important for the maintenance of health. It was considered by the Directing Committee of ISDE to be an item to collect data, state the problems related to health and point at directions for improvement.
Effective actions require good understanding about the relation between water problems and health.
The European Chapter of ISDE has launched the project "Water and Health in Europe". Acting in collaboration with the different national chapters of ISDE in Europe data have been collected on the main problems related to water and health.
In 1996 the project was launched as a two-year effort to collect data and write a report. Questionnaires were send to all the European ISDE member states.
Only a few of the countries replied these questionnaires. Some of the data will be used in this report. Most information will be used from other sources.
In the questionnaire an inventorisation of the problems was scheduled. The division was made between drinking water, surface water and ground water.
Estuaries, coastal waters have been seen as a part of surface water.
Evaluation of the Questionnaires
The number of returned questionnaires was too small to make any real evaluation of the data.
Results of the Inventorisation so Far
Hungary: groundwater pollution with arsenic and nitrates; high iron and manganese content of drinking water; deep well waters with secondary pollution in pipe system: bacterial pollution; little information on boron, lead and pesticides; surface water: cleaning of municipal waste water is still missing in most towns.
Slovenia: polluted surface water (main polluters are industry, pesticides and urban problems)
Latvia: high iron content and deterioration of organoleptic of water properties; equipment of water laboratories insufficient.
Netherlands: use of pesticides; contaminated groundwater with nitrates; polluted surface water.
Greece: concern for the quality of sea water; pollution with agricultural chemicals.
Poland: use of pesticides, contaminated drinking-water with heavy metals and nitrate;
Switzerland: Soil contamination by agriculture activities; too much manure; lack of oxygen.
England: No big problems. Some chemical contamination of drinking-water, nitrates and PAH■s in groundwater.
Bulgaria: Drinking water: contamination with chemicals, virus and bacteria. In groundwater: nitrates, arsenic, ammonium and oils. Expectation is an increase in the nitrate problem and a poor bacterial quality.
Evaluation of other Sources
What are the problems?
Quantitative and qualitative aspects of water are both equally important in all countries.
It should be underlined that surface waters and groundwater are renewable resources with a limited capacity to recover from adverse impacts from human activities on their quantity an quality. The quality aspect seems to be even more important in the Central and Eastern European countries and in the Newly Independent States (NIS).
Some of the problems are: outbreaks of water-borne diseases; chemical contamination (e.g. pesticides); toxin-producing blue-green algae; pathogenic micro-organisms.
What are the needs?
There is a need for research in the field of monitoring water quality and health effects.
ISDE should have the objective to promote at all policy and research levels the protection of human health and well-being, individually and collectively, as well as sustainable development, through improving water management and preventing, controlling and reducing water related diseases.
ISDE should have the initiative or look at natural partners to raise the water pollution and health issue as a truly multi-disciplinary problem. The disciplines of medicine, public health, economics, engineering, science, communications, legislative and political are all involved on addressing solutions to water pollution problems.
What are the expectations?
The International Instrument on Prevention, Control and Reduction of Water-related Diseases, to be formulated as an outcome document of the London conference will further emphasize the importance of the research on this area.
Ideas for Action
Promote the approving of measures by decisionmakers in order to achieve adequate supplies of drinkingwater and sanitation. This should be done especially through the protection of the water resources which are used as sources of drinkingwater and the establishment, improvement and maintenance of collective systems.
Promote the establishment of effective systems for monitoring hazards likely to result in outbreaks or incidents of water-related diseases and for responding to such outbreaks and incidents and the risk of them.
Promote the idea to look at sampling water for public health purposes, and not merely for compliance purposes.
Promote the control of diffuse sources. While in many countries the industrial sources have been in the spotlight, we have forgotten about the other sources, which have grown in importance. Sources like households, agriculture, building activities, water transport are the most important contributors of chemicals to surface water.
The role of ISDE is to act according to local or national problems. Even within a country the problems can differ very much. Special attention should be paid to the quality of the drinking water in many European countries and the contamination through other than industrial sources.
With better monitoring systems the authorities will see for themselves which problems need most attention. ISDE should make a list of health items with these many different water problems. From the health point of view it is possible to make some changes for improvement.
A suggestion would be to form a 3 to 4 person working group that can learn from the activities in preparation of the London '99 Ministerial Conference and can support the ISDE societies by delivering the health arguments for improvement.
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