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Green algae: French government blamed for water pollution

Green algae in Brittany.
Green algae in Brittany. Getty Images/Gérard Labriet

A French court on Monday blamed the French government for the decomposing toxic green algae covering beaches in Brittany.

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"It is possible that some rules haven't been fully implemented", said the Minister of Agriculture Stéphane Le Foll on Tuesday. "The French government is guilty because laws on nitrates exist (...) but they are so difficult to implement that it wasn't always possible to do so."

For almost 40 years, toxic blue green algae has been thriving in certain coastal areas, in some cases causing alarming-looking green tides.

Environmentalists blame high levels of nitrates in surrounding soil, caused by intensive farming.

Especially on beaches in France's Brittany region, which have been repeatedly affected and are continually monitored for new growth.

The excessive algae growth has also caused several allegations of illness and even deaths.

In 2009, toxic fumes from green algae caused the death of a horse and the illness of its rider on the beach at Saint-Michel-en-Grève near Lannion in Brittany.

And in 2010, a truck driver who was removing algae from the bay at Binic station in Brittany died, allegedly from toxic gases emanating from decomposing green algae. 

Since then, the French government financed the cleanup of polluted beaches but didn't really implement measures to stop the algae growth.

Nitrates that drain into water as a result of intensive farming are blamed for the killer algae. 

But it's the agricultural practices which are in fact singled out.

On Monday night the Senate passed a bill on agriculture pesticides restriction.

A law is needed  which should "change production patterns" said Le Foll. "In some areas in Brittany, real efforts have been made, but we need to speed up the process, that's the issue" added Le Foll.  

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