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Issues: Europe

Health Issues and Water Pollution in Hungary

by Piper Wilson

Though the number of drinking water epidemics in Hungary has decreased, hazards still exist. Due to the growing size of water works, the number of people affected by a contamination occurrence is also increasing. This can be seen when assessing swimming pools, spas, and drinking water.

Several examples of water pollution and health issues have occurred in Hungary. In a small village, the piped water contained fluoride, causing fluorosis of teeth. The symptoms were found in all of the 12-14 year old schoolchildren. This problem might be fixed in the future by mixing, or diluting, the water.

Swimming pools with insufficient treatment devices might also become a cause of epidemics. Contamination by chemical pollutants, such as natural and manmade compounds is increasing. In most cases the infection was spread by water from pools without water treatment, disinfection and recycling devices. For example, a river stretch was polluted by illegal sewage discharge. This caused people, mainly children, to be infected with dysentery. Also, a hepatitis epidemic in 1979, of 56 cases, was caused by a polluted pool.

Another health issue occurring is caused by high nitrate concentrations in water from individual, mainly private, sources. In the southeast part of the country, more than 400,000 people were exposed to drinking water with arsenic concentrations. In the exposed area, a higher frequency of some symptoms, including hyperpigmentation, keratoses and some inflammatory illnesses, was also observed. The high nitrate concentrations in water have also been leading to methemoglobinemia illness among infants. The number of stillbirths and spontaneous abortions increased significantly in the area where the arsenic concentration exceeded twice the limit value, compared with the control. Luckily, the annual number of cases dropped from almost 300 to 20-30 due to establishing new water works in small villages and taking other preventive steps, such as informing pregnant women and supplying bottled water.

The greatest drinking water pollution case occurred in the town of Vac. An immense quantity of pharmaceutical waste contaminated the soil, leading to the groundwater and the bank filtration area to become highly polluted. This polluted water caused gastrointestinal symptoms. Having recognized the situation, the water works were taken out of operation, waste storage was cleaned, thousands of polluted soil was transported away, and the degree of pollution in groundwater has decreased. However, the pollution is still not over.

Pollutants also contaminated the rivers and ground water.

Some of Hungary’s most polluted rivers were the Tisza, Danube, Szamos, Sajo, and Zagyva. This means the water supplies of 773 towns and villages were not fit for human consumption. In 1970 Hungary released 1.5 million cubic meters of polluted water per day. Industrial waste from chemical, rubber, iron, paper, and food-processing industries accounted for 70 percent of the waste matter, of which only 27 percent was treated. Only 46 percent of Hungary's population had an adequate sewage system.

These problems can be based on a general overview of data problems including data acquisition and treatment, prolonged lack of regulation, poor technology of data transfer, lack of domain integration of environmental and health department data, no clear outline of water supply zones, lack of modern database and consequently inferior data quality and safety variable report outcomes.

Pollution in the Czech Republic

By Saima Hedrick

The Czech Republic is a small country in central Europe with a population of approximately 10.5 million. The nation is landlocked, bordered by Poland, Germany, Austria and Slovakia. The major Czech rivers are the Elbe, Moldau, and Morava.

In 1992, over 90% of the waterways were found to be polluted. 1996, the Czech Republic applied to the European Union (EU) for admission and was asked to come up with a waste management plan. However, it was not until July of 2003 that a waste management plan was put into effect. The lack of regulation of this plan, and further neglect, has resulted in many pollution problems.

The Czech people use approximately 90 % of the groundwater for drinking. This source is not only in danger of being depleted, but also of contamination by the surrounding contaminated bodies of surface water.

The surface water is heavily polluted with agricultural runoff containing nitrates, phosphates, pesticides, and toxic metals and organic compounds. The wastewater is not adequately treated to remove nutrients and suspended solids. Moreover, industries have been contaminating the waterways with hazardous chemicals and metals (such as mercury, lead and cadmium) without regulation. The majority of this pollution is dumped into the Morava River, where several industrial plants and farms are located. As a result, the entire Morava River Basin has been declared an area in need of environmental protection.

The Danube River, a major waterway in Europe which flows through ten different countries, is an international pollution crisis. Healing this river has been a joint effort of many different nations, funded and regulated by the EU. The Czech Republic is responsible for 2.5% of the water that drains into this international waterway.

In an effort to reduce its contribution to this crisis, and fix its polluted rivers, the Czech government renovated 4 of its 12 wastewater treatment plants in 2002. The Czech University of Technology is also working on developing more efficient water treatment technologies, water management strategies, and mapping the current levels of pollution to see how they are influenced by population pressures and climate change.

In the last 10 years, with the expansion of the public sewer system, the population coverage increased from 75% to 81%, over 30 treatment plants have been updated, and the levels of oxygen depletion in the rivers has dropped 94%. The EU is currently funding several projects to improve current wastewater treatment processes, such as the testing of new packed aeration technology to remove volatile organic compounds from drinking water. If the Czech government can continue to be motivated, with EU oversight, then there is a real chance that the pollution problem could be averted.

For more information, contact Saima at

Turkey's Water Issues by Liliana Garcia

Located in Southeastern Europe and Southwestern Asia, modern Turkey is comprised of bustling cosmopolitan centers as well as, pastoral farming villages. More than 70% of Turkey's population lives in urban areas in comparison to the rural Western population with more traditional ways of life. As the world’s 15th largest GDP and a founding member of the OECD it comes as a surprise that Turkey has been facing chronic water issues both in urban and rural areas for years. From water scarcity to international disputes with Iraq and Syria over hydrological projects to control the Tigris-Euphrates waters.

Turkey’s most recent water crisis began on August 2007 after record low levels of snow and rain in the winter and searing summer temperatures. Reservoirs were less than 5% full in Ankara when they began the water restriction policy of two days on, two days off. The mayor of Ankara announced that the city would be divided into two sections and each section would alternately receive water for two days for a certain period of time. Two-day water cuts turned into a three-day, four-day and even longer water cuts. Authorities considered delaying the start of the school year until mid-October to avert the spread of disease and hospitals were being supplied with ground water carried by tankers. Due to the water shortage, some hospitals stopped admitting patients except for urgent cases and some delayed non-emergency surgical operations. The water shortage significantly increased the risk of disease. According to health experts, the pressure shifts in the pipes adversely affect the quality of the water. Also, some people, particularly those living in poorer districts of the city, drank water taken from artificial ponds and fountains.

In addition to chronic water shortages, Turkey is also involved in territorial disputes over water. The issue of water rights has been a point of contention between Iraq, Turkey and Syria since the beginning of the 1960s when Turkey implemented public-works project aimed at harvesting the water from the Tigris and Euphrates rivers through the construction of 22 dams, for irrigation and hydroelectric energy purposes. Relations between the three countries worsened with the construction of the controversial Ilisu Dam, which began in 2006 and is still underway. The unpopular dam is opposed by the local community because it would flood portions of ancient Hasenkeyf and necessitate the relocation of people living in the region. The dam is also strongly opposed by the countries downstream, Syria and Iraq who fear they will receive less water. Turkish, Iraqi and Syrian ministers tried to resolve some of their disputes on September 2009 when they met in Ankara to discuss water shortages in the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, after the Tigris River plunged to record low levels and Iraq was suffering through a drought. Baghdad and Damascus want Turkey to increase the flow of water passing through its network of dams, however, no consensus was reached.

Turkey needs more controls and good water management, employing modern irrigation techniques is a key way to save water. According to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), “if the current improper usage of natural resources continues, this will be the leading cause of drought and desertification in Turkey.” A recent report by the WWF also said that if Turkey’s population reaches at least 80 million by 2030, annual per person water consumption in Turkey would be 1,100 cubic meters, which would spark a severe water crisis.

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