EU To Limit Chemicals in Surface Waters

(Beyond Pesticides, June 18, 2008)

On June 17, 2008, the European Union (EU) voted and approved limits for chemical contaminants in surface waters. This measure would expand the EU’s campaign to protect the environment and also reduce the cost of producing drinking water. This new measure will set limits for 33 chemicals, including pesticides and heavy metals, in lakes, rivers and coastal waters that may endanger the survival of ecosystems and, via the food chain, human health. EU member states, which approved this legislation, will have until 2018 to meet these water standards. States will have to reduce pollution from “priority substances,” cease or phase out emissions, discharges and losses of “priority hazardous substances” in order to achieve good surface water chemical status and to be in compliance with the objectives set by the water quality standards. “This directive will guarantee a higher level of the protection of water by principally applying the principal of polluter-pays and corrects,” said rapporteur Anne Laperrouze of France, after the vote.

Member states will have to establish an inventory, including maps, if available, of emissions, discharges and losses of all priority substances and pollutants for each river basin district or part of a river basin district lying within their territory, including their concentrations in sediment and biota. States sharing bodies of surface water will coordinate their monitoring activities and the compilation of inventories.

This proposed directive on water quality is the final piece of legislation needed to support the Water Framework Directive introduced eight years ago. Thirteen of the 33 pollutants covered by the directive are already identified as “priority hazardous substances,” including heavy metals like cadmium and mercury. In its first-reading, the Parliament wanted to phase out a wider range of substances, but the Council decided to take on board the list of 33. The majority of states are willing to accept this as a first step, since some action is seen as better than none, with a further review already scheduled. In 2011, 13 new substances, including dioxins, PCBs and bisphenol, will be classified as “priority” or “hazardous” substances and added to the list of chemicals to be discontinued or phased out under the Water Framework Directive.

Two years ago, the EU endorsed laws to control chemicals in ground water and to force manufacturers and importers to provide more safety information on substances in Europe’s $800 billion chemicals market. On June 1, 2007, the EU regulation REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemical substances) took effect, triggering action that removes from the market toxic chemicals when less toxic alternatives are available.

Protecting the health of surface waters also translates into healthier drinking water. “With less pollution, water companies will have to do less treatment to meet drinking-water requirements,” Barbara Helfferich, environment spokeswoman for the European Commission. “It’s not only a health issue. It’s a cost factor, too,” she added.

Pesticide run-off from agricultural lands is a major source of surface water pollution. According to EU directive, it will not be possible to comply quickly with environmental quality standards close to pollution sources. In these areas, pollutant concentrations may exceed the limits, provided that they do not prevent the rest of the body of surface water from meeting the standards. However, measures to reduce the chemical concentrations in these areas will be included in future management plans.

Previous steps have been taken by the EU to reduce pesticide pollution that include limitations on aerial spraying, the use of buffer zones around agricultural lands and restrictions on the use of pesticides of high concern. (See Daily News of October 29 and July 13, 2007.)

Pesticide contamination of rivers, streams and waterbeds used as sources of drinking water is an acute problem for Europe.

Sources: European Parliament News,