Ailments which may result from such contact include gastro-enteritis, skin infections, minor eye, ear and throat infections, as well as more serious diseases transmitted via the faecal-oral infection route, including hepatitis.
The European Commission Directive (Council Directive 76/160/EEC concerning the quality of bathing water) aims to protect public health, by ensuring bathing waters meet minimum quality criteria. It establishes a set of binding EU-wide standards (or values) for a range of key parameters (such as bacteria present) and requires Member States to carry out regular water quality monitoring. The Directive provides for annual reports from Member States to the Commission.
Data on the microbial quality of recreational waters are collected in some countries, but the quality of such data is severely limited. Microbial contamination of bathing waters, mostly in the Mediterranean, is responsible for an estimated two million or more cases of gastrointestinal disease annually.
In October 1999 the European Commission decided to send a Reasoned Opinion to the United Kingdom for non-respect of the European Union's quality of Bathing Waters Directive. The Commission is dissatisfied that 15 years after the deadline for compliance expired, the United Kingdom has still not introduced sufficient measures to curb pollution in order to meet the criteria set out in the Directive. The Commission's action stems from the investigation of a complaint that the United Kingdom has been consistently failing to meet the Directive's standards. An analysis of the available data by the Commission showed the complaint to be well-founded. By way of illustration, for the 1996 bathing season, the UK's rate of compliance with mandatory values under the Directive was 89.4 % and with guide values 46%. The figures for 1997 were 88.3% for mandatory values and 43.3% for guide values. The 1998 figures were 88.7% and 44.2% respectively.