Brussels cannot prevent sewage from polluting its waterways
24 November 2022
Brussels cannot stop sewage from polluting its waterways. This is what Politico writes on Wednesday. "Untreated sewage is unfortunately still a problem in Europe" - and Brussels is an "exceptionally bad example", says Sara Johansson, senior policy officer for water pollution prevention at the European Environment Agency.
The Belgian capital stores rainwater and wastewater in one system, allowing the system to overflow into waterways, including the Brussels canal, in days of heavy rain.
According to Canal It Up, an action group that wants to clean up the Belgian capital's heavily polluted waterway, around 10 million cubic metres of wastewater enter Brussels waterways directly through overflows yearly. Additionally, some 6 million cubic metres of wastewater are barely treated as the plants cannot handle the extra volumes on high rainfall days.
In October alone, Canal It Up recorded ten days of flooding - two in the Canal and eight in the Senne. Last year, the action group counted 19 days when sewage overflowed from an overflow into the Canal and 100 days when it overflowed into the Senne. That is far more than the current standard in the Flemish Region, which limits overflows for newly constructed sewers to seven days a year.
"Untreated sewage is unfortunately still a problem in Europe"
"Untreated sewage is unfortunately still a problem in Europe" - and Brussels is an "exceptionally bad example", says Sara Johansson, senior policy officer for water pollution prevention at the European Environment Agency.
Brussels only started treating its wastewater in 2000. Although the city's two treatment plants have significantly improved water quality, overflows remain a significant problem for improving the condition of the Senne and other waterways. Johansson says this is because the plants are not equipped to handle average rainfall, as required by EU rules on wastewater treatment.
"All these substances in our wastewater, whether they come from industry or road drainage, pharmaceutical residues, all this cocktail of substances end up untreated in the [Brussels] canal and the sea," Johansson complains.
The Brussels Region is committed to addressing this problem in its latest water management plan for 2022 to 2027. Under EU law, these plans must be renewed every six years.
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