Blue Flag: How To Know The Quality Of Bathing Water?
France has more than 3000 freshwater and seawater bathing areas. Among them, more than 500 beaches and ports are awarded the Blue Flag label in 2023. Even in the absence of a label, the quality of bathing water is subject to health monitoring to prevent any risks for bathers. Here is everything you need to know about the quality of bathing water in France.
How is water quality controlled?
In France, the quality of bathing water is monitored at least once a month by the Departmental Directorates for Health and Social Affairs (DDASS / DSS / DSDS).
This health check is carried out in areas accessible to the public that have not been subject to a ban and where there are many bathers (non-occasional attendance exceeding 10 bathers simultaneously during the bathing season).
Each year, more than 30,000 water samples are taken and analyzed to determine the sanitary quality of bathing water and to prevent health risks, particularly microbiological contamination risks.
In the event of a deterioration in water quality, the public is informed and the authorities may, if necessary, temporarily close the bathing site. The Ministry of Health also presents the latest data on the quality of bathing water in France on a website for the general public (link below).
How is water quality evaluated?
The European Directive 2006/7/EC has imposed new classification modalities for bathing waters.
Since the end of 2013, bathing waters are classified into 4 categories according to their quality:
The first three categories will be deemed compliant with the European Directive, while the fourth is non-compliant. According to this directive, all bathing waters in Europe must be of at least "sufficient" quality since 2015.
How to determine water quality?
If you want to know where to swim safely and what the water quality was like at your vacation spot last season, you can check the official website of the Ministry of Health (link below).
To find out the latest analysis results, you can either search by dropdown list (department, municipality) or consult an interactive map that needs to be clicked on. This website also provides rankings for previous years' bathing waters.
What do the different labels mean?
Since August 2008, the Ministries of Ecology and Health have launched a label specifically rewarding the quality of bathing water: the "Démarche Qualité des Eaux de Baignade" label. This label requires sampling throughout the summer season.
In 2021, about 100 coastal municipalities, representing approximately 350 bathing sites, had obtained this certification issued by the Ministry of Ecological Transition.
Moreover, the "Pavillon Bleu" label, which is the best known in terms of bathing water quality, is also an excellent indicator as it rewards the environmental efforts of coastal municipalities or those with inland waters (lakes, ponds, rivers).
According to the national ranking unveiled today, May 24, 2023, the "Pavillon Bleu" has been awarded to 511 sites in France, 406 beaches and 105 ports.
The Occitanie and Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur (PACA) regions remain at the top of the rankings with 241 sites, representing nearly half of the total number of beaches and ports labeled in France (47%).
Occitanie tops the ranking with a total of 128 sites (108 beaches and 20 ports). The PACA region ranks second with 113 sites (86 beaches and 27 ports). In third place, Nouvelle-Aquitaine has 60 winning beaches and 2 ports.