Europe sets sights on surface water pollution

New legislation proposed by the European Commission this week would give rivers, lakes and coastal waters added protection from toxic chemicals.

The new legislation, put forward on Tuesday, July 18, will support the Water Framework Directive by setting limits for surface water concentrations of a range of dangerous substances.

Member states will have to ensure concentrations are below the limits by 2015.

The 41 substances covered by the proposals have been chosen because they pose a particular risk to aquatic plant and animal life as well as to human health.

They include a number of heavy metals, flame retardants, pesticides and other hazardous chemicals.

Of the 41 substances, 33 have been defined as a priority and as well as meeting the 2015 targets must be completely phased out of production by 2025.

Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said: “One drop of a hazardous substance can be enough to pollute thousands of litres of water so it is vitally important that we properly control chemicals that pose a threat to the environment and human health.

“These common standards of protection are needed because many river basins and coastal waters cross international boundaries.”

Pollutants get into the aquatic environment from a variety of sources including agriculture, industry and incineration. Chemical pollution can disrupt aquatic ecosystems by damaging or destroying habitats and the plants and animals that inhabit them, reducing biodiversity.

Pollutants may accumulate in the food chain and harm predators consuming contaminated prey.

Humans can also be exposed to chemical pollutants by eating contaminated fish or seafood, drinking polluted water or through recreational activities.

By replacing five older directives the proposal would also contribute to the Commission’s Better Regulation initiative, which aims to tidy up overlapping and excessively complicated legislation.

It is the final major piece of legislation needed to support the WFD which is set to become the cornerstone of EU policy protecting water.

The WFD will require all EU water to be good quality by 2015 and while this proposal concentrates on surface water, previous proposals have been drafted to look at the quality of groundwater.

Sam Bond

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