Press release

First International Elbe Swim Day on 14 July 2002: Elbe pollution level meets EU guidelines for bathing water

Hamburg, 09 July 2002 –

The Elbe generally fulfills EU guidelines for bathing water in terms of pollution. However, it is in the nature of things that the Elbe, as a flowing river, is subject to strong currents and it isfor this reason that only some rivers in Germany can be identified as EU bathing water. Local features, extreme rainfall or water temperature can cause the limits to be exceeded at any time along the river,which is more than 1,000 km long.

From the beginning the creators of the event have recommended that local organizers conduct measurements of the Elbe’s water quality for the Elbe Swim Day on 14 July 2002. Analysis of the results by the responsible administrative districts and regional offices is based on the EU bathing water guidelines. The values for fecal coliform and general coliform bacteria, which are relevant for the EU bathing water guidelines, were measured.Graphics of the measurement results were prepared by the Elbe water quality office and can be viewed on the project website at We have good water quality results showing values which are harmless to bathers in the north German states (Brandenburg, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Lower Saxony, Hamburg and Schleswig-Holstein). The current readings are several times below current EU standard limits. Measurements above the EU limits have occasionally been recorded in Saxony in the last two weeks. We recommend that people do not swim in these areas.

The same recommendation applies for areas which have not been explicitly designated as safe bathing areas. Swimming in the Elbe is not the same thing as a visit to the swimming pool. Swimmers should pay careful attention to the local conditions and exercise caution when swimming in any open body of water, whether ocean, sea or river.

There are strong currents in the Elbe, as is the case for most rivers, which means that basically only experienced swimmers should swim in rivers. And every child learns not to jump in water where you can’t see the bottom. Swimming shoes can help protect easily and effectively from sharp stones. Swimmers should also be careful not to risk hypothermia, since flowing waters are usually colder than stagnant water. The creators of the eventhave published a leaflet especially for the Elbe Swim Day in conjunction with the German lifesaving association (DLRG), which contains important safety tips for swimming in rivers; this will be distributed at all bathing sites. It should also be remembered that the Elbe is a heavily used shipping route, especially in Hamburg. The local swimming festivals have been planned for months and lots of beach activities are taking place. An Elbe swimming festival may turn out to be quite an experience especially if all the visitors symbolically dip their toes in the water! The German lifesaving association (DLRG) will also be present at all official event locations, thus ensuring the highest possible level of safety.

The quality of the water in the Elbe has improved since reunification. The natural self-purifying procedures, in particular in the upper and middle Elbe were significantly increased and the oxygen situation of the Elbe up to the tide Elbe region can be described as good. This means that 94 fish species can be found in the Elbe again today (in 1992, only 50 species were found). All earlier species of fish are present once again including the Atlantic sturgeon.

The tremendous efforts to construct communal sewage plants in the entire Elbe catchment area are exemplary: since 1990, 239 larger communal sewage plants have been built, of which 61 are in the Czech Republic, 177 are in Germany and one is on the East Austrian Elbe tributary. Now all municipalities with more than 20,000 inhabitants in the Elbe catchment area have modern sewage plants. Technological changes in industrial plants have also contributed to a reduction in the discharge of harmful substances.

The idea for an international Elbe Swim Day came out of the history of the Elbe (and most of its tributaries in fact) as one of the most completely polluted and, up to 1989, heavily guarded frontier rivers in the last few decades. The Elbe stank. It became the dirtiest river in Europe, as well as a sewage channel and an industrial waterway. So people were prohibited to use the river directly – to do so would have even been dangerous.

Even though the water quality of the Elbe has dramatically improved in recent years, much still remains to be done. We want to use the Elbe Swim Day to inform the public about the improvements we have made thus far. The Elbe Swim Day will be a celebration and symbol of the reconciliation of people with the Elbe river. And after more work has been done, the wish of being ablepour Elbe spring water into the Elbe during local swimming festivals may indeed come true.

For queries:
Deutsche Umwelthilfe e.V.
Roberto Epple
Tel.: +49-171-7532414

Deutsche Umwelthilfe e.V.
Agnes Sauter
Telefon: +49-175-5724833

Gruner + Jahr
Dr. Maria Hoffacker
Telefon: +49-40-3703-3878