The European Union (EU) Bathing Water Directive of 1976 ([Commission of the European Communities, 1976. Council Directive of 8th December 1975 Concerning the Quality of Bathing Water (76/160/EEC). Official Journal of the European Community. 5th February 1976, L31/1, Brussels]) sets out standards for designated bathing waters which should be complied with by all member states. Intervening advances in pollution science, related technology and managerial expertise have allowed the European Commission to consider revision of EU environmental legislation where appropriate. As a result, a number of revisions to the 1976 Directive have been proposed ([Commission of the European Communities, 1994. Commission Proposal for a Council Directive Concerning the Quality of Bathing Water. Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council, COM (94) 36 Final, Brussels; Commission of the European Communities, 2000. Developing a New Bathing Water Policy, Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council, COM (2000) 860 Final, 21/12/200, Brussels; Commission of the European Communities, 2002. Commission Proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council Concerning the Quality of Bathing Water, COM (2002) 581 Final, 24/10/2002, Brussels]). This paper considers these revisions in terms of the economic costs and benefits associated with any change in policy. The focus is on the public's willingness to pay for a revised Directive and the consequent public health benefits afforded to individuals and society. These economic benefits are compared to the costs of implementing changes to bring bathing waters up to the required standard. © 2004 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.