EC takes Ireland and Denmark to court over water standards

The European Commission has decided to proceed to the European Court of Justice against Ireland over failing to reduce the concentration of dangerous substances in water, and Denmark over bathing water.

The EC said it will take Ireland to the European Court of Justice for breaking the EU’s 1976 Dangerous Substances Directive and has also sent the nation a final warning for non-respect of the 1991 Nitrates Directive. Under the former Directive, the EC says that Ireland has failed to adopt binding water quality objectives for heavy metals and biocides. The EC says that Irish local authorities enjoy an “unjustified exemption from the need for authorisation of their discharges”, and that, despite recent legislation, there is still no clear requirement that authorisation of discharges from Irish marine fish farms should be based on water quality objectives.

Besides this, the case against Ireland also relates to “shortcomings” over phosphorous, which is mainly responsible for the decline in Irish lake and river quality in recent years. Despite some recent positive developments, “the quality objectives in some cases have the effect of creating unjustified official tolerance for a decline in water quality between the 1970s and the late 1990s,” it said. There has also been a failure to effectively tackle farmyard discharges of phosphorous, or to authorise aerial discharges of phosphorous for forestry.

“I am concerned that Ireland is the only Member State not to have yet notified any nitrate vulnerable zones, and would urge the Irish authorities to take the necessary steps as soon as possible, including action for nitrate-polluted groundwaters on which small rural communities depend for their drinking water,” the EC’s Environment Commissioner, Margot Wallström, commented.

The EC has also sent Ireland a final warning for failing to designate vulnerable zones for waters polluted by nitrates from agriculture and to adopt corresponding preventive and clean-up measures under the 1991 Nitrates Directive.

The European Commission has also decided to take Denmark to the Court of Justice over failure to implement the limit values set in the Bathing Water Quality Directive for a number of bathing waters and for not meeting minimum sampling requirements. The legal deadline for complying with standards for a range of key parameters (such as faecal indicator bacteria present) and by requiring Member States to carry out regular water quality monitoring expired in 1985. Belgium has also been issued a first warning over pollution in some inland bathing waters and failure to designate others under the Directive.

“I would urge both Denmark and Belgium to put the compliance of their bathing waters with Community standards at the top of their agenda for 2001,” Wallström commented.

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