This paper compares several aspects of water and sediment pollution in the Rhine and Po rivers. The data were selected from previously published material following criteria that considered natural differences between the two river basins and also differences in the experimental approaches employed. One aim of the comparison was to highlight differences in approach between the Italian and Dutch water authorities and to assess the advantages of standardising methodologies for water quality assessment between Italy, The Netherlands, and other member countries of the European Union.
Water quality in the Po and the Rhine was found to be similar; levels of trace metals, with the exception of copper, were below current environmentally acceptable targets, and the toxicity of water extracts to water fleas were closely similar. The main problem in both basins was diffuse inputs of nutrients and biocides from agriculture.
By contrast, there were considerable differences between the rivers in terms of sediment contamination, which was much worse in the Rhine. Potentially dangerous levels of organochlorides were found in sediments from both rivers, yet concentrations were much higher in Rhine sediments, particularly in the deltaic area, which contained very high levels of certain trace metals and polyaromatic hydrocarbons.
It is concluded that the two rivers share many environmental quality problems, and that harmonisation of experimental and monitoring procedures between the two rivers would not only assist research but promote more efficient management policies.