Most European countries have made significant progress in tackling nutrient pollution in water, even though industry output in many sectors that contribute to contamination has increased in recent years, new figures published by the European Environment Agency (EEA) show.

Nutrient pollution levels across the European Union have dropped among households and in agriculture and manufacturing industries, the figures reveal. The EEA report looked at a number of recent trends as shown by new indicators used by the agency to measure different economic aspects of water pollution and water use across the continent. As an additional positive step, manufacturing industries managed to reduce heavy metal pollution in water between 2004 and 2010.

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The ultimate goal set by the EEA is to achieve what it refers to as "absolute decoupling," meaning that environmental impact is reduced while economic growth is maintained. Such decoupling has already been achieved for some pollutants in agriculture and manufacturing, the agency said. In contrast, "relative decoupling" refers to a situation in which environmental impacts still increase but at a lower rate than growth.

While these findings are good news and a signal that Europe is on the right path, nutrient pollution in water is still a serious problem for the environment as a whole and for waterways and aquatic biosystems in particular. In several EU countries there is no absolute decoupling trend, either because pollutant emissions have been going up or productivity in manufacturing industries has dropped.