Important legal notice
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Environment - Understanding the environment and the impacts of green technologies
“Towards improved monitoring and safer standards of European bathing waters.”

The problem

The Bathing Water Directive (BWD – 76/160/EEC) governs the quality of EU bathing waters. It is among the oldest of EU Directives and is currently under review. Advances in technology provide an opportunity for greatly improved detection of waterborne micro-organisms and the consequential reduction in potential health risks (eg gastro-enteritis) for recreation. For instance, molecular DNA technology could be applied to detect these agents and, hence, improve the quality of European bathing water.

Virobathe  New methods for assessing micro-organisms in EU bathing water


VIROBATHE will evaluate methods for detecting in water noroviruses and adenoviruses – noroviruses are the cause of 'winter vomiting disease' and some adenoviruses are associated with gastro-enteritis, particularly in young children. This project will:

  • Develop methods to detect these agents rapidly in recreational marine and fresh waters
  • Test and validate these methods during a 20-week surveillance programme covering representative recreational waters across the EU
  • Introduce the technique to other routine environmental testing laboratories across the EU to monitor bathing waters at a local level.

Contribution to policy development:

  • VIROBATHE will provide the scientific information essential for the Commission to review the existing Bathing Waters Directive (76/160/EEC) and meet the environmental health standards appropriate for
    the 21st century.
  • The study will inform the international debate on microbiological monitoring of water, especially to the revision of the Bathing Waters Directive. 
  • The project will provide credible data, not only to the Commission but also to the World Health Organisation (WHO), on the potential use of the viral determinants examined for assessing and setting quality standards for recreational waters.

Project deliverables

  • Report on the use and maintenance of Hep-2 and HeLa cells for growth of adenoviruses and for the detection of infectious adenoviruses, 05/2005
  • Report on optimised, diagnostically accurate (RT)PCR detection methods for noroviruses and adenoviruses, 07/2005
  • Report on optimised, accurate real-time quantitative PCR assay for adenoviruses, 10/2005
  • Report on combined concentration-detection methods for both adenovirus and norovirus for use in fresh and seawater, 11/2005
  • Final project report and recommendations for new standards of assessment for Bathing Water Directive 2, 04/2007


  • Project website, 01/2005 and ongoing.
  • Regular briefing for the technical and popular press, 05/2005 and ongoing
  • Training workshop to familiarise non-participant bathing waters surveillance laboratories with new methods and technology, 12/2005
  • Presentation of results to technical and international peer-reviewed scientific journals, 11/2006
  • Combined conference and technology-transfer workshop for surveillance laboratories, scientists, policy-makers, regulators and industry, 02/2007
  • Formal presentation of recommendations to European Commission and national policy-makers, 02/2007.

Technical information

Project acronym: Virobathe
Project full title: Methods for the concentration and detection of adenoviruses and noroviruses in European bathing waters with reference to the revision of the Bathing Water Directive 76/160/EEC
Research priority: 1.5. Environmental assessment (soil, water, air, noise, including the effects of chemical substances)
Specific webpage:
Proposal/contract no: 513648
Start date: December 2005
Kick off meeting: January 2005
Completion date: April 2007
European Commission scientific officer: Not available

Name: Professor David Kay, University of Wales Aberystwyth
Abbreviated name: UWA
Address: Institute of Geography and Earth Science
University of Wales
SY23 3DB
Country: United Kingdom
Tel: +44 1970 622634
Fax: +44 1970 622659


Name: Università di Pisa
Abbreviated name: PIS
Country: Italy

Name: Department of Environment Food and Rural Affairs
Abbreviated name: CSL
Country: United Kingdom

Name: Rijksinstituut voor Volksgezondheid en Milieu
Abbreviated name: RIVM
Country: Netherlands

Name: Tor Vergata University
Abbreviated name: ROME TV
Country: Italy

Name: Landesgesundheitsamt Baden-Württemberg
Abbreviated name: LGA
Country: Germany

Name: University Henri Poincaré – Nancy
Abbreviated name: UHP-LCPME
Country: France

Name: Environment Agency
Abbreviated name: EA
Country: United Kingdom

Name: University of Barcelona
Abbreviated name: UB
Country: Spain

Name: Bayerisches Landesamt für Gesundheit und Lebensmittelsicherheit
Abbreviated name: LGL
Country: Germany

Name: Umweltbundesamt
Abbreviated name: UBA
Country: Germany

Name: National Veterinary Research Institute – State Research Institute
Abbreviated name: NVRI-SRI
Country: Poland

Name: Istituto Superiore Sanità
Abbreviated name: ISS
Country: Italy

Name: Faculdade de Farmácia da Universidade do Porto
Abbreviated name: UP
Country: Portugal

Name: State General Laboratory
Abbreviated name: SGL
Country: Cyprus

Name: Health Protection Agency
Abbreviated name: HPA
Country: United Kingdom